Our Medical Staff Leadership Council intends to ask a physician to agree to a voluntary Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) to address behavioral concerns. Do you have any tips for drafting the PIP?
OUR ANSWER FROM HORTYSPRINGER ATTORNEY PHIL ZARONE:
Yes! A PIP is much more likely to be successful if the letter to the physician describing the PIP is carefully drafted and addresses certain issues. Here are a few thoughts:
- Details matter. The Leadership Council should identify exactly what it wants the physician to do and then include those specific expectations in the PIP. For example, it’s not enough to say “complete additional EMR training.” The PIP should identify what type of EMR training, how many hours, the deadline for completion, and how completion will be documented. The key point is that the requirements should be clear so everyone knows what’s expected.
- Identify appropriate PIP elements to address the behavioral concern. Different types of concerns benefit from different types of training. For example, a physician who has difficulty interacting with patients may benefit from different training than a physician who is abrasive to staff. Fortunately, the number of training options has increased significantly in recent years, so it’s generally possible to find a program that fits your specific needs. Here’s a link to a 45-page document from the Federation of State Medical Boards that describes various training options: https://www.fsmb.org/siteassets/spex/pdfs/remedprog.pdf. If your hospital is a member of a health system, you could also touch base with other hospitals and ask for their experience with different training options.
- Identify a process for reviewing and addressing subsequent instances of inappropriate behavior, especially if there is a pattern of concerns with the physician. The PIP could identify the fact-finding that will occur (which will always include obtaining the physician’s input about any future allegations) and then describe the options the Leadership Council has for dealing with violations of the PIP. You want to give the Leadership Council flexibility to deal with less significant violations of the PIP; for example, through a collegial discussion. But if a “Formal Violation” of the PIP occurs, you could outline the progressive steps that will be used for the first, second, and third Formal Violations (for example, final letter of warning, three days of off-site training at the physician’s expense, 360 degree review, agreement to not exercise privileges for 10 days, referral to the Medical Executive Committee for review under the Medical Staff Bylaws, etc.).
- Think about the duration of the PIP. Particularly if it describes specific consequences for inappropriate behavior, will those consequences be in effect for six months, 12 months, or indefinitely? Will the number of “Formal Violations” be re-set to zero after a certain amount of time has passed without a violation?
- Use a proper tone, one that is as positive as possible. A PIP for behavior may need to be firm to convey the expectations for behavior going forward. Still, the PIP should be collegial and explain why appropriate behavior benefits patient care. The PIP should not sound scolding or punitive.
If you have a quick question about this topic, feel free to e-mail Phil Zarone at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, join us at the Peer Review Clinic in Phoenix from November 16-18, 2023.