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News: Joint Commission targets disruptive physician behavior

The Joint Commission issued a standard requiring hospital administration to adopt codes that define behavior and develop procedures to discipline staff who behave badly.

In response to "disruptive" behavior by health-care professionals, the Joint Commission issued a standard requiring hospital administrators to adopt codes that define such behavior and develop procedures to discipline medical staff and other health professionals who behave badly, according to American Medical News (8/18/08). The standard takes effect in January 2009.

In a Sentinel Event Alert issued in July, the commission (formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) cited how intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors and contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse outcomes, among other negative effects. The commission included among such behaviors not just verbal outbursts and physical threats but also passive activities such as reluctance or refusal to answer questions, phone calls, or pages, and condescending language or voice intonation.

Not everyone supports the commission's actions. Some physicians think that disruptive behavior policies can be used against physicians who step on some toes when advocating for patients and make it easier for hospitals to target outspoken medical staff members. Others, however, think it is important to address the issue because hospitals have been reluctant to confront disruptive physicians.