Nearly everyone has encountered a colleague whose poor and disruptive behavior affected their team. Whether it’s someone who yells, snaps at others, intimidates colleagues or has a flippant or aggressive communication style, negative behavior can affect the vibe of any workplace. But when surgeons misbehave, it can also affect patient safety and lead to an uptick in medical malpractice claims, according to new research.
A Harvard study, published in July 2018, collected and de-identified 360-degree review data for 264 surgeons between 2012 and 2013 and compared it to medical malpractice data from 2000 to 2015. The study concluded that surgeons who exhibited negative behaviors were more likely to also have a malpractice claim, and reports of positive behaviors were associated with fewer malpractice claims.
So what can healthcare organizations and the surgical community do to rectify negative behavior and the resulting risk of claims? Here are three ways to improve surgeon behavior.
Focus on Improving Surgical Culture
Often, behavior issues like poor communication or dismissing colleagues with opposing opinions about clinical decisions and medical treatment plans stem from problems within the organization’s culture.
Many times, surgeons who bulldoze over their colleagues, withhold information or take an aggressive, hard-line stance do so because they believe they’re protecting their patients. In reality, this sort of behavior is counterproductive and can lead to mistakes.
“Our findings emphasize the importance of respectful communication and teamwork and show that surgery needs a culture change,” says the study’s lead author, Janaka Lagoo, M.D., in an article published by CRICO. “Ultimately, a surgical culture that promotes teamwork, communication and constant personal and professional growth could be advantageous for patients and physicians alike.”
Identify Risks and Areas for Improvement
The same Harvard study also discovered that nearly half of the surgeons considered have at least one claim. In other words, behavior isn’t always the cause of a medical malpractice claim, and poor outcomes happen even under the watchful eye of the best-trained surgeons.
Use 360-Degree Reviews
Regular reviews will not only help identify negative behavior but can also foster better collaboration among surgeons and help organizations prepare better action plans for making necessary improvements.
But in addition to organizational and process-related issues like miscommunication, 360-degree reviews can also unearth bigger problems like anger management or substance abuse among surgeons, and allow organizations the opportunity to address these issues before they lead to medical errors and malpractice lawsuits.
The Harvard study only corroborates what most medical professionals already know: At best, bad behavior can lead to frustration among colleagues. At worst, it leads to critical mistakes in the operating room. By addressing cultural and behavioral issues, healthcare organizations can reduce the risk of medical malpractice claims and improve patient care quality.