One of the primary reasons doctors receive Medical Board complaints is communication with patients, but also with hospital and office staff as well. Although many believe that treatment of hospital staff cannot result in discipline or privileging issues, a recent Wyoming case illustrates otherwise.
On February 24, 2001, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the St. John’s Medical Center’s revocation of medical staff privileges of a physician described as “disruptive.” Significantly, both sides agreed that only the doctor’s behavior toward staff, not the quality of care to patients was at issue. The case illustrates the high standards placed on physician behavior.
The physician, an orthopedic surgeon, was described to have “repeated instances of behavioral issues” with hospital staff. When the doctor applied for reappointment to the staff, he entered into a “Medical Staff Reappointment Agreement” that identified behavioral concerns and placed conditions on reappointment. Several months after reappointment, the entire operating room staff signed a petition refusing to work with the surgeon. Subsequently, the Medical Executive Committee summarily suspended and ultimately terminated the surgeon’s privileges. The physician challenged the revocation of his privileges on several grounds, including his right to due process, and the hospital’s decision to bypass its “Disruptive Practitioner Policy.” The Wyoming Supreme Court ultimately upheld the hospital’s decision. In reaching its decision, the Court quoted the Oregon Supreme Court’s holding in Huffaker v. Baily, 540 P.2d 1398 (Ore. 1975):
The factor of ability to work smoothly with others is reasonably related to the hospital’s object of ensuring patient welfare. This conclusion seems justified for, in the modern hospital, staff members are frequently required to work together or in teams, and a member who, because of personality or otherwise, is incapable of getting along, could severely hinder the effective treatment of patients…. Hospitals uniformly consider cooperativeness an important factor, and in these circumstances it seems questionable whether this court should gainsay the hospitals’ experience and judgment in this matter.