The phrase “disruptive physician” has been bandied about at medical staff meetings lately. Apparently, most hospital medical staffs have provisions in their bylaws for sanctioning physicians deemed to be disruptive irrespective of their clinical competence. I’ve always been a bit uneasy about this, since any behavior or opinion someone else (such as a nurse or an administrator) finds objectionable could be categorized as disruptive.
Of course there are occasional examples of physician behavior clearly detrimental to patient care such as intoxication, sexual impropriety and threatening or intimidating behavior so severe as to preclude an effective working relationship among staff. Such episodes require an organized, explicit institutional response. The notion of a disruptive physician policy to deal with these situations is sound. But how do you define disruptive behavior? Greg Piche in his Health Care Law Blog recently remarked “The definition of what constitutes disruptive behavior in most of these policies is left so inordinately broad and so diaphanously vague as to render them effective tools for silencing responsible criticism….” His examples of behaviors that could be considered disruptive are concerning; having a disagreeable personality or willingness to speak out against the administration could perhaps result in a disciplinary proceeding.
So this concerns me. Although the original notion of a disruptive physician policy may be valid it could have the unintended consequences of stifling original thought and dissent. This editorial from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons warns about abuse of the concept. Please read the whole article, particularly the little ditty at the end.
Disclosure: I have occasionally bumped heads by playing the medical staff curmudgeon role.