Question of the Week

Due to the long time needed for a physician with behavioral complaints to go through the collegial efforts and progressive steps (e.g., collegial meetings, letters, performance improvement plans, etc.), staff are often left with the impression that Hospital and Medical Staff Leaders are not addressing the problem and “the physician is getting away with his bad behavior again.”  This destroys morale and it makes everyone reluctant to report concerns.  Do you have suggestions?

This is a great question.  In our experience, nursing and other hospital staff are typically reluctant to report concerns, especially about behavior.  We also know that the reports that get filed are typically “the tip of the iceberg.”  This is supported by The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event on Behaviors that Undermine a Culture of Safety, which was first published in July 2008 and was updated in June 2021.

It is even harder for staff to file a report if they think they are being ignored or if nothing has been done about reported concerns in the past.  At the same time, addressing behavioral concerns (just like addressing clinical or health concerns) is part of the peer review process and is confidential and privileged.  That doesn’t mean that leaders can’t get back to the person who filed the report.  In fact, we recommend, as a “best practice,” that leaders try to always follow-up with a person who has filed the report or complaint.

The follow-up is important because you will often get additional meaningful information when you talk with the person who filed the report.  For instance, you might learn that the complained of behavior “happens all the time” or that others have been subject to the same behavior by the same physician.  You might also learn the names of additional people who witnessed the incident or who have relevant information.  Any new information should also be documented.

But beyond getting additional information, talking to the person who reported the concern is important because it is your chance to reassure the person that they have been heard.  You can thank the person for coming forward and remind them that documentation is necessary so that action can be taken.  You can also let them know their report has been reviewed by Medical Staff Leadership and that appropriate action will be taken.

You can also let the person know that retaliation of any sort against them for filing a report will not be tolerated and they should report immediately if they think they are being retaliated against in any way.  It’s also a good idea to let them know that their identity has not been disclosed.

Additionally, you can tell the person who filed the report that the Medical Staff deals with concerns about behavior as part of its peer review process and that the process is confidential and privileged according to hospital policy and state law.  You can explain that you are not at liberty to share the results of the peer review process with them, but you can reassure them again that they have been heard and that action is being taken.

You may want to follow-up with a note or e-mail.  This will reinforce the information you provided and it will also give you a chance to remind the person of the important role that they play in addressing concerns (it is difficult to correct a problem without a written report or complaint) and the need for them to continue to report incidents in the future.