Anger Management: Apparently, Information Technology Has Even More Doctors on The Edge Than Usual

August 28, 2007

By: David Burda,

The drive toward electronic health records has resulted in both good and bad consequences. On the plus side, accurate, comprehensive, accessible and transferable EHRs are reducing medical errors and improving patient care. On the downside, EHRs have become the preferred target of identity thieves, who consider the often poorly secured records as a treasure-trove of personal data.

But there’s another downside that not many people are talking about: disruptive physicians. That’s according to physician Alexis Polles, medical director of the professional enhancement program at Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Miss. Polles and the program’s clinical director, Phillip Hemphill, gave a presentation on disruptive physicians at the American College of Physician Executives’ Spring Institute May 5-10 in Orlando, Fla. I covered the conference for the first time and sat in on the disruptive physician session looking for some news.

Polles told the 50 or so physician-executives at the session that the culture, training and daily work of physicians all mix together to push many of them into some pretty anti-social behavior in the workplace. Hemphill lightened the serious tone of the session with a few slides of how some disruptive doctors visually display their feelings toward others, including one who wore a T-shirt that said, “If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.” Funny, but it’s not necessarily a calming message that an anxious patient wants to hear from a doctor.

Polles rattled off a number of factors contributing to disruptive behavior by physicians: extreme competitiveness, the pressure of making life and death decisions, sleep deprivation, etc. A lot of the things you wouldn’t think twice about after watching an episode of “ER” or “House.”

But right before the session ended and Pine Grove’s business development coordinator Allison Sutton raffled off a Montblanc pen and an iPod to the crowd, Polles quietly threw out another reason behind some of the disruptive physician behavior that she’s dealing with in her clinic: the transition to electronic medical records. “It’s very difficult for many of them,” she explained in an understated tone.

According to Polles and to several physician-executives I spoke with after the session, some practicing physicians are getting so frustrated trying to figure out how to use EHRs that they’re lashing out at their peers, co-workers and staff—so much so that they need to seek professional help at places like Pine Grove. Said one physician-executive sitting at my table, “They just don’t see why they have to change, and they take it out on everyone else.” And off they go for some expensive behavioral modification. The average monthly treatment costs at Pine Grove’s professional enhancement program is $12,200, and the average length of stay is 60 days.

Maybe there’s a marketing opportunity for information technology vendors here. Along with a new medical record system, offer physician users free mental health counseling—or at least a less offensive T-shirt that they can wear on their rounds.

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