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New study: surgeons' unprofessional behavior can harm patients

A study published in JAMA Surgery shows that those who undergo surgery are more liable to develop post-operative complications if the surgeons display unprofessional behavior. Seven million surgical procedures are performed every year in California and across the U.S., and unprofessional behavior is estimated to impact the lives of at least 500,000 patients annually.

From two medical centers that were part of the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, researchers were able to study 202 reports of surgeons' unprofessional behavior. Examples of such behavior included disrespectful communication, poor care and the failure to follow through with professional responsibilities. Researchers also examined 13,653 patients, 1,583 of whom developed a complication within 30 days of their operation.

The more reports were filed about a surgeon, the more complications were found. With surgeons who had one to three reports made of them, the risk went up 18%. With four or more reports, the risk increased almost 32%. Male surgeons were more likely to generate reports of unprofessional behavior. It should be remembered, though, that only a small number of surgeons misbehave: Between 70% and 80% never receive complaints about their behavior.

Patient complications that can develop include infections such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, stroke and cardiovascular conditions. These cost the healthcare industry about $7 billion every year.

Reports of unprofessional behavior from a surgeon's co-workers may provide evidence for anyone who was hurt in a surgical procedure and wants to file a medical malpractice claim. There are many requirements to meet for a claim to be valid. The surgeon's negligent actions must be shown to have caused the surgical complication, and this can be more difficult. If they hire a lawyer, victims might have access to the work of investigators and medical experts. The lawyer may speak on their behalf at the negotiation table.

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