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"Rude language and hostile behavior among health care professionals[horizontal ellipsis]poses a serious threat to patient safety and the overall quality of care," warns The Joint Commission (TJC) in a recent Sentinal Event Alert. So serious is the problem that TJC is introducing new standards, effective January 2009, requiring facilities to create and enforce a code of conduct for health professionals. The conduct code must define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and establish a formal process for addressing disruptive behavior. Some 40% of clinicians remain passive during patient-care events rather than question a known intimidator, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices-just one example of how poor communication undermines patient safety.

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The Joint Commission recommends 11 specific steps to put an end to disruptive behaviors. One of these is to educate all health care workers about professional behavior, "including training in basics such as being courteous during telephone interactions, business etiquette, and general people skills." To learn more, read the July 9, 2008 Sentinel Event Alert at http://www.jointcommission.org.