Preventing Conflict in Healthcare – A Missed Opportunity!

Physician wearing red boxing gloves

In May of 2008, the Joint Commission released its Leadership Standards for 2009 with the goal of creating a Culture of Safety. A key element of the new standards was the prevention of workplace conflict that the JCAHO determined was disrupting communication between practitioners, which their research confirmed was compromising patient care.

In response, Healthcare Organizations developed and attempted to rigorously enforce Codes of Conduct among their Medical and Nursing Staffs.  Despite that considerable effort, conflict in the Healthcare Environment remains as prevalent as ever. So what went wrong?

A Broken System

Most organizations decided that reports of violations had to be dealt with in secret and the resolution decreed by leadership fiat.  Concerns about confidentiality and Peer Review Privilege meant that those individuals that were on the receiving end of the disruptive behavior, the ones who filed the complaints, were completely ignored in the process.

The complainants were seldom told about actions taken in response to their reports of Code Violations. Equally counterproductive, they were never asked whether they believed the remedies decreed were suitable or appropriate. In a painful irony, the only “update” many of the complainants received were when they were confronted by the person they’d reported.

The Rules of Engagement

The commitment and resolve of executive and Medical Staff leadership are essential to the success of any effective campaign to address workplace conflict but their opinions as to what constitutes an effective resolution aren’t the ones that really matter!  We need to remember that JCAHO’s belief was that quality patient care was being impaired as result of poor communication.  That can only be corrected by those whose communication and relationships have been impacted.

That requires that the parties to the disruptive event find a way to begin trusting and respecting one another again. This won’t happen unless they are allowed to speak candidly with one another about the event and their actions/reactions. Any conversation they might initiate on their own isn’t likely to be productive if it’s not conducted in a safe and constructive setting!

That setting is best created in Mediation because facilitating the parties’ journey through this emotionally charged minefield require the skills of an educated, experienced and objective 3rd party neutral.  It shouldn’t the sort of hard-nosed, distributive bargaining many have encountered in malpractice or employment-related litigation because resolution isn’t based on legal integration or a monetary settlement.

Instead, it should be facilitative or transformative model of mediation, the satisfactory outcome of which is the restoration of the relationship among members of the clinical care team.

Resolve the Differences

Conflict in the workplace doesn’t have to be a disaster—it can be an opportunity for transformation. Too often conflicts in healthcare environments are avoided, handled inadequately, and allowed to escalate into major disputes. Robert Fielder provides coaching and resources to effectively deal with stressful situations without damaging the team or jeopardizing medical care. If you are ready to minimize workplace conflict contact us today.


This article was originally published at DCCS Consulting Healthcare News & Insights.

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