Docs Gone Wild

Posted on March 26, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

Update: Be sure to read A Davis’ comments on this post as well where he provides some more perspective and understanding on the magnitude of the issue.

And in a bit of a break from our usual EMR and EHR content, we have a couple of stories that caught my eye on Fierce Healthcare.

The first story is about a talk on provider disruptive behavior presented at the American College of Healthcare Executives (with the somewhat hilarious acronym ACHE) Annual Congress in Chicago. The kind of behavior that includes ponytail-flipping, pestering patients and colleagues for dates and not taking no for an answer, threatening to use AK47 etc. Rolling your eyes because you’ve never encountered these doctors from hell? Me too. To a person, the doctors I’ve encountered here in the US have been professional, courteous and polite.

But how common is this kind of stuff?

The Fierce article doesn’t say, but the not-so-subtly titled “Physicians behave badly online” provides some statistics on doctor behavior online.

The litany of complaints against doctors is as long online. The most common complaint is that doctors ask patients out on dates. According to the article, 48 participating state medical boards had at least one case of online misconduct, and the accusations leveled include:

Inappropriate online communication with patients (69 percent), such as sexual misconduct

Inappropriate medical practice (69 percent), such as prescribing medication without establishing a clinical relationship with the patient

Misrepresenting medical credentials online (60 percent)

The penalties for these online faux pas included reprimands, loss of licence, community service, fines etc.

Taken in totality, doctor behavior both on and off-line has some cause for concern. The same behavior in the real world translates to disruptive behavior online. I would also argue that it’s not just the same behaviors, but also the same set of doctors who misbehave. If you meet a jerk in the real world, chances are it’s the same person that might pursue you on a dating site.

The statistics as reported on Fierce Healthcare are a little fuzzy though. OK, so 69% of the 48 states had at least one reported online misconduct case, but how many doctors were involved? What percentage of doctors displayed inappropriate behavior? Were there repeat offenders, or multiple cases against the same misbehaving doctor? I don’t know. The JAMA abstract is woefully short on any meaningful details.

Does the online world just make this worse? Do we see more of this happening and since it’s so easy to connect with patients online? Does it also make the doctor more accountable for their actions since something done online can be more easily tracked and reported?