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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dr. Anna Chacko the Disruptive Physician

UPDATE: Please also check out my new book, The Definitive Dossier on PTSD in Whistleblowers, for only $3.99, in which I dedicate chapter four entirely to the exploits of Dr. Anna Chacko. 

The term disruptive physician is likely one that a layman hasn't heard of. Yet, it is one that is fairly well known within the health care field. It is used by regulators including state medical boards, JCAHO, the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, as well as medical associations including the American Medical Association. Each has a policy for reporting a "disruptive physician" through the medical peer review process. The term disruptive physician is vague and ill defined. In fact, it can almost be summed up by the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined obscenity and pornography.

It's hard to define but I know it when I see it

A lot has been written about the traits that characterize a disruptive physician.

A physician's behavior may be defined as disruptive when it ceases to be normative: A disruptive physician can be the surgeon who berates colleagues, residents, and nurses for not performing to his or her standards, and yet constantly violates protocol, arrives early or late for procedures, and disappears at the most inopportune moments.[1] The internist who never uses drugs on the hospital formulary but refuses to serve on the pharmacy committee may be considered disruptive. The pediatrician, a favorite of patients' families, who never completes paperwork but lets it be known that the blame for a child not getting the care that the family believes is needed lies with the administration, nursing staff, and managed care providers who conspire together to prevent the doctor from practicing good medicine may also be considered disruptive. Such behavior takes its toll. Such disruptive physician behavior can undermine the morale of individual staff members, weaken the effectiveness of the medical team in delivering care to patients, spark lawsuits, make it difficult to hire and retain a good staff, and negatively affect the reputation of the institution as well as that of the entire profession. Results of a new survey show that when physicians exhibit disruptive behavior as this, it fuels the nationwide nursing shortage by affecting on-the-job satisfaction and morale for nurses: “The disruptive physician attempts to manipulate supervisors, staff, and patients.…[2]

The disruptive physician attempts to manipulate supervisors, staff, and patients, often passive-aggressively defying their orders and requests or requiring endless repetition of the same that results in only grudging follow-through. Such physicians will have often “acted out” in some hostile manner. They exhibit verbal hostility, throwing of charts or instruments, hitting desks or computers, or slamming doors. Vague threats against staff, colleagues, and supervisors can also be attributed to such individuals, although these are usually in the form of threats of legal action or administrative action, and not physical harm. Although the physician's ability to handle the day-to-day job requirements appears satisfactory, he or she often shows poor judgment at work by ignoring established policy or performing tasks at the mere fringes of acceptability. Although the physician is often cordial to coworkers and others, he or she is also volatile and appears overly sensitive, and may even go through periods when he or she does not talk to coworkers because they are irritating.

There's also been plenty written about its effects on the work environment.

The New York Times on Tuesday examined how some physicians' negative behavior "contributes to medical mistakes, preventable complications and even death," in addition to "low morale, stress and high turnover" among hospital staff.

According to a survey of health care professionals at not-for-profit 102 hospitals from 2004 to 2007 conducted by Alan Rosenstein of VHA, 67% of respondents thought there was a connection between disruptive behavior and medical mistakes, and 18% said they knew of an error that occurred because of an "obnoxious" physician, the Times reports. One-third of the nurses in the study knew of a nurse who had left a hospital because of the behavior of a physician. In addition, a survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices found that 40% of hospital workers reported having been so intimidated by a physician that they did not share concerns about prescription orders and, as a result, 7% said they had contributed to a medication mistake.

The stigma from being labeled a "disruptive physician" can end careers and ironically enough, the charge of disruptive physician has been abused as a means of retaliation. In fact, I have run across several cases in which the charge of disruptive physician was used during the process of sham peer review as a means of retaliation by a corrupt process. (more on that later in the piece)

I say it's ironic because Dr. Anna Chacko, the subject of my ongoing expose series, is the textbook definition of a disruptive physician. It's ironic because there is a plethora of examples of hospital administrations abusing the term disruptive physician to go after a physician that is innocent. All the while, Dr. Anna Chacko has spent the better part of her near three decade career in medicine being nothing but disruptive and never had anyone formally charge her with this term. This is all very logical when you consider that Dr. Anna Chacko is a Psychopath. After all what is a psychopath in the workplace if not disruptive.

Before I go on, here's a quick recap for all first time readers. Dr. Anna Chacko is currently the head of radiology at the Pittsburgh VA. I began tracking her case after sources within the hospital reached out to me. They did this because in their estimation Dr. Chacko has been nothing short of a terror since arriving there in October of 2008. The hospital attempted to remove Dr. Chacko this past March and April, however Congressman Brad Miller reached out to the head of the VA himself, General Eric Shinseki, and the hospital's decision was overridden. Since beginning my investigation, I have spoke to prior colleagues from coast to coast and found that her current behavior is part of a pattern of behavior that causes terror and destruction everywhere Dr. Chacko happens to land. Prior to her stint at the Pittsburgh VA, Dr. Chacko spent fourteen months at St. James Hospital in Butte, Mt. Prior to that she spent about a year at Boston University Medical Center. Prior to that, she spent about six years as head of radiology in Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Ma., a suburb of Boston. Prior to that she spent time in various VA Hospitals as part of her military career. Here are some of the most egregious examples of Dr. Chacko's pattern of behavior as a "disruptive physician".

Upon arriving at St. James Hospital, Dr. Chacko wasted no time in attacking her colleague there Kristi George. George was the radiology manager at St. James. George was actually on vacation the first week of Dr. Chacko's employment. Dr. Chacko made comments about Ms. George's looks, her competency, and she systematically lied in order to impugn George's character and standing in the hospital. Dr. Chacko would often make snide and inappropriate comments about George to George's best friend at the hospital, Jeri Doyle. Doyle was not only Ms. George's best friend, but Ms. George was her boss.

Eventually, multiple witnesses heard Dr. Chacko promise Ms. Doyle that if she helped her (Dr. Chacko) get rid of Ms. George that Ms. Doyle would take over her position. Ms. Doyle is currently serving as radiology manager. Ms. George and Ms. Doyle now don't speak and are, let's just say, no longer friends. Meanwhile, Ms. George was eventually fired right after Dr. Chacko left St. James. Her firing, and everything that preceded it, was the subject of a civil claim between Ms. George, St. James Hospital, Dr. Chacko, and other parties, that was recently settled and is now under seal.

While at Lahey Clinic, Dr. Chacko would often bring in members of the radiology department into her office. Then, Dr. Chacko would ask one radiologist why another radiologist hates them. Then, Dr. Chacko would bring in the other radiologist and reverse the process. These questions were often based on wild misrepresentations or outright lies. No one in fact hated anyone else. Instead, Dr. Chacko would make this up in order to split the department.

In another case, Dr. Chacko bought several hundred thousand dollars worth of radiology equipment. The equipment was delivered and the salesperson was finalizing the deal when Dr. Chacko demanded to cancel the deal and take the equipment back. The salesperson was so livid that she could be heard screaming through the hospital, "you had no problem with our equipment when we paid for you to go to India (Dr. Chacko's place of birth)"

In one infamous incident,Dr. Chacko lit into a resident at a staff meeting calling her lazy, careless, stupid, etc. The staff, sat in horror, too amazed to speak up. They looked at each other in shock at the vitriol, and just as they were about to say enough, lets move on, she stopped and discussed another issue. But she swung that issue around to residents and then began the attack a new. The rest of the staff were too shocked to say anything and they looked around like “are we hearing this correctly, this is too much”. Everyone was whispering and about to say move on when she stopped and started on another item. The item was again artificially swung to residents in general and then on to the resident again. The staff again listened and were about to speak up and the cycle repeated itself 6 or 7 times, each time a shorter echo but no less personally violent. Each of the staff said the same thing: shameful. And they later felt shame and said later that they should have spoken up. From fear they held back a few seconds, she knew when to change the subject, and knew she could do it all conference long.

(I confirmed this incident with the subject of the attack, now a doctor in a hospital in Illinois, but lost contact with her before getting permission to use her name.)

Finally, when Dr. Chacko was removed from Lahey Clinic, she was removed forcefully by security. She could be heard screaming through the hospital, "kiss my big Indian ass "as she was dragged out.

Since Dr. Chacko began working at the Pittsburgh VA, her behavior is similar. There are several doctors at the VA that are legal resident aliens. Dr. Chacko is known to threaten to go to immigration and report them if they cross her. Dr. Chacko disallows the radiologists to have any personal conversations. Often, doctors hide in utility closets just to converse. In a bit of tragic irony, one source tells me that the chief tech and the administrative officer at the Pittsburgh VA were best friends for years. Then, the chief tech began siding with Dr. Chacko. Meanwhile, the administrative officer filed several formal complaints against Dr. Chacko. The two, the tech and the administrative officer, are now no longer on speaking terms and this source believes that the chief tech is now Dr. Chacko's spy trying to find information about the radiology department.

Finally, my source also tells me that Dr. Chacko has been filing a series of complaints against members of the department for a series of dubious problems.

In each case, Dr. Chacko's behavior goes to divide the hospital and the department she's supposed to lead. Friends are often put in a position to attack other friends. More than one source has complained of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after having to deal with Dr. Chacko. More than one has hired an attorney to deal with complaints leveled at them by Dr. Chacko. Sources describe climates of fear, distrust and extreme stress when they've worked with her. I have only scratched the surface on a thirty year career in which there are systematic examples of Dr. Chacko being a "disruptive physician".

She has worked in numerous states in numerous hospitals. Yet, she's never faced any formal discipline for being a disruptive physician. I earlier said this is ironic. That's because it's common place for the accusation of a disruptive physician to be used simply as a tool of retaliation. As I said, I have run across several cases in which this has happened. In one case, Dr. John Bagnato began investigating the major hospital in his hometown, Phoebe Putney. Dr. Bagnato found what he believed to be a systematic practice of overcharging and over billing of many of the indigent patients that Phoebe Putney. His investigation became a crusade and is now the subject of the documentary, Do No Harm. Dr. Bagnato told me that about a year he attempted to reinstate formal privileges at Phoebe Putney. Prior to that, he would only be at the hospital an average of once monthly. During this process, the hospital opened up a peer review investigation in which Dr. Bagnato was charged with, among other things, being a disruptive physician. As of the last time we spoke, those charges were still pending.

In another case, Dr. Stephen Taylor of Huntsville Vascular Surgery Inc. got into a financial dispute with the rest of his team. This dispute eventually lead one of his former partners to bring up a formal complaint that Dr. Taylor was a "disruptive physician". Dr. Taylor told me that he was making $750,000 yearly prior to the incident and once the charge wound up on his record he was only able to make between $50 and $75,000.

In another case that is frankly to complicated to recount here, Dr. Shirley Pigott was charged with being a "disruptive physician" because she didn't send a patient their test results in the required 15 days. (the test results were sent about a month after that time had expired)

When I started working on this series, the question I wanted most answered is how Dr. Chacko has gotten away with perverting the medical system for so long. After all, having a Psychopath run wild runs counter to everything we stand for. The answer to this question is extremely complicated and will need to be the subject of more than one blog post.

It's clear that the perversion of the term "disruptive physician" is central in answering that question. It is both tragic and shameful that Dr. Chacko has had a career that has taken her from Texas, to Boston, to Butte, Mt. and now Pittsburgh (as well as many places in between) and never has she been brought up formally on charges of being a disruptive physician. Given that it is common place for innocent doctors to be the subject of false "disruptive physician" charges, that is nothing short but an indictment of the corruption of the medical system at large.

It is, however, a situation that can be corrected. Both JCAHO, the Pennsylvania Medical Board, along with dozens of other regulators and medical associations need to be notified immediately of the overwhelming evidence that Dr. Chacko is a disruptive physician. The purpose of the creation of this term was to prevent exactly the environment that Dr. Chacko's behavior creates in each and every place she winds up working. Never has a case so obviously exposed the weaknesses and flaws of bad policy like that of the case of Dr. Anna Chacko and the term "disruptive physician".


Here's the definitive dossier on Dr. Chacko.


Anonymous said...

It is indeed ironic that the term "disruptive physician" is usually a bunch of bull, but in this case, where it would be appropriate, no one has seemed to make use of it in hospital proceedings.

To its credit, the Pittsburgh VA tried to remove Chacko, but she was too clever vis-a-vis political muscle.

Though evil, Chacko must be given some grudging admiration for her skillful use of lawyers and her manipulation of the system. It is interesting how corporations, which have flaws of their own, often try to crush the individual but haven't succeeded in this instance at all.

Perhaps a silver lining is that some of Chacko's methods could be used by the righteous when wrongly accused.

One more question for Mike: is there any evidence that Chacko's political supporters in the VA system are backing down?

Anonymous said...

Another brief Chacko story: one day at Lahey, a non-radiologist called a radiologist friend in Boston to see whether he could follow him around a bit to learn how to read CT scans. That very day, Chacko called the non-radiologist's chief to complain bitterly.

Amazingly, Chacko was on vacation in Hawaii at the time but had been alerted to the possible turf intrusion.

mike volpe said...

That's a hard question to answer since the only political supporters of Chacko that I have identified for sure, Congressman Miller and General Shinseki, refuse to speak to me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disagree- Chacko is not a disruptive physician- she is a destructive physician.

Anonymous said...

Mike, Why don't you send all this information to JCAHO and the Board of Registration in Medicine and let them conduct their own investigation. If the Board asks individuals for evidence, they may feel safer in giving it- especially if there are several corroborating parties. By the way- it is quite likely that a person like Chacko accummulates evidence on significant people she works with in order to use it to her advantage later- in some cases she may overstep her bounds and use information she probably should not have access to. The Board should investigate to see if this is the case also. Just a thought- but my guess is that this is her M.O.

Anonymous said...

While at Lahey, Chacko had her office painted blood red. Frequently people would wander the halls wondering why they were being summoned to the "Red Room".

Anonymous said...

While at Lahey, Dr. Chacko hired her sister to do nighthawk reads, from Hawaii. Lahey paid PACS consultant firm "XTRIA" to fly a physicist and and engineer to build her sister a reading room in her house.

The woman was a technophobe and had never read digital softcopy prior to this assignment was not capable of dealing with the little issues that pop up when doing telerad over 3000 miles. Just when all the issues with workflow had been smoothed over, the sister up and quit.

The physicist and engineer flew back to Hawaii and disassembled the reading room.

Physician Answering Service said...

Psychologists can significantly bolster the impact of the nursing home care and treatment plan of patients suffering from chronic illnesses.

Vijay Mehta M.D. said...

There are two sides to a pancake no matter how flat you make them.
While I do not have enough information about the Chacko versus the Provocateur it is obvious that the agency needs to take a good look to address the issues raised by chacko and for the sake of Veterans inform if there is any problem at Pittsburgh VA or not.
Some of her concerns are posted at

In this cyber age it is important that we put more emphasis when a poster is identifying him or her versus those who are anonymous. It is not difficult to type any outrageous allegation about anyone on a blog.

Vijay Mehta

mike volpe said...

I stand by all my reporting Dr. Mehta. I have made no judgments either way about the Pittsburgh VA. I don't know if her accusations are accurate.

I do know that anyone that thinks that anything besides a full investigation of Chacko herself is the most important thing in this case needs their own priorities looked at.

I agree that the Pittsburgh VA should be investigated but that's right after a full investigation of how Chacko managed to manipulate the entire U.S. medical field.

Finally, the reason that most are anonymous is the same reason they speak to me anonymously and that's because they fear her. I stand by everything I have said. Forget what you read in the comments, my reporting speaks for itself.

Vijay Mehta M.D. said...

Thanks Mike.

I think Dr. Chacko was already fired from her job and I guess that is the highest penalty available, unless of course someone can come up with criminal acts.

However, the deficiencies she has pointed out about the Pittsburgh VA are of serious concern and IG needs to move quickly to address these issues.

Suppose even one tenth of her allegations are found to be true few years from now, government would be in a very difficult position to defend herself.

I am also going to forward these issues to JACHO and may be for a change they may look at things that matter instead of some stupid protocol.

It would also help if you can disclose if you have any personal connection with the Pittsburgh VA employees or Dr. Chacko. I have no connection with any one connected to this issue.

mike volpe said...

I think she's also suing the Pittsburgh VA and so making the place look as corrupt and incompetent as possible would benefit her.

There's plenty you don't know about her. Just remember, nothing is ever as it appears.

Vijay Mehta M.D. said...

I agree with you mike. The old link is not functional so here is the new link where I plan to post the information available to me.

Anonymous said...

I just want to add that unfortunately many of these brahim elitist doctor from India have no intregrity. They lie and abuse their power. In Milwaukee, the head of VISN 12 imaging,Dr. Kumar in of his gross medical errors, tried to hide that he missed a lung cancer and because of the delay in treatment the patient died. The IG investigated this, see

He then proceeded to falsify information about a loyal american doctor and fired her. What type of people are these ?

Anonymous said...

I have read your blogs- you do a terrific job of investigating. I think that you should probably look into Kumar- head of VISN 12 (from Chicago to Upper MI) imaging- he has the same MO- psychopath and the IG had to investigate him because he tried to hide one of his gross misreads. Apparently, the head of VISN 12- Jeff Murawsky has helped him in retailiating againsst the doc who call the IG. A lot of employees throughout the Visn are trying to figure out why this nut is in charge. Many docs have left the visn because of his caustic personality and then he brings his "friends" . Clearly, he should not be in any position of power. PLEASE INVESTIGATE THIS ASSHOLE.

Anonymous said...

In addition, Kumar uses his affiliation with the Medical College of Wisconsin to validate himself- He's being sued by several people who he fired.

Anonymous said...

In addition, the central office- DC- is aware of Kumar abberant behavior but haven't done anything yet Call them to ask if they suppport his tactics?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dr. Chacko was indeed fired from her job from the VA in Pittsburgh in March 2010, she has moves around a bit since first to Butte, MT in May 2010 and now in August 2010 to Avon, CO.

Why she's moving around so much I can only guess - trying to avoid being found?

Anonymous said...

Why again does this physician keep getting hired? Any simple background check into her professional credentials could easily disclose the fact she is a "cancer" in the workplace. This is my simple opinion...

Anonymous said...

Someone please continue the investigation of this physician and please - make her not a hireable commodity already!

Unknown said...

Is Mike Volpe still active on this blog? Please comment, as I have some information that completely supports his claims regarding the "Disruptive Physician" in question.

Anonymous said...

Is this blog still active? I need to contact Mike Volpe regarding some very pertinent information regarding the physician in question.

mike volpe said...

Yes, please contact me at

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear an update on this provider. As a previous colleague I can attest to her being a cancer on all she came in contact with....ugh still shiver from "the red room"!!!!