Patient safety and quality at risk through healthcare professionals behaving badly

The Joint Commission – the USA’s largest healthcare accreditation body – is warning that “rude language and hostile behavior among health care professionals goes beyond being unpleasant and poses a serious threat to patient safety and the overall quality of care.”

It has issued a Sentinel Event Alert titled ‘Behaviors that undermine a culture of safety’, which is based on years of research. The Alert states that “Intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse outcomes, increase the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians, administrators and managers to seek new positions in more professional environments.”

To help put an end to intimidating and disruptive behaviors among physicians, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, support staff and administrators, the Sentinel Event Alert recommends that health care organisations take 11 specific steps, including the following:

– Educate all health care team members about professional behaviour, including training in basics such as being courteous during telephone interactions, business etiquette and general people skills;

– Hold all team members accountable for modelling desirable behaviors, and enforce the code of conduct consistently and equitably;

– Establish a comprehensive approach to addressing intimidating and disruptive behaviors that includes a zero tolerance policy; strong involvement and support from physician leadership; reducing fears of retribution against those who report intimidating and disruptive behaviours; empathising with and apologising to patients and families who are involved in or witness intimidating or disruptive behaviors;

– Determine how and when disciplinary actions should begin; and

– Develop a system to detect and receive reports of unprofessional behaviour, and use non-confrontational interaction strategies to address intimidating and disruptive behaviours within the context of an organisational commitment to the health and well-being of all staff and patients. 

Read the Joint Commission’s full Sentinel Event Alert ‘Behaviors that undermine a culture of safety’ here.

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