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Physicians’ Perceptions, Preparedness for Reporting, and Experiences Related to Impaired and Incompetent Colleagues

A recent doctor survey study by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that while physicians support the professional commitment to report all instances of impaired or incompetent colleagues, when faced with these situations, many do not report.

Conducted by a team from Massachusetts General Hospital, the study used data from 2009 national survey of close to 3,000 physicians practicing in a wide array of medical fields. The physicians were questioned in three areas: about their responsibility to report physicians who were incompetent or impaired by drugs or alcohol, their preparedness and comfort level doing so, and their experiences with colleagues with these issues.

While 70% of the physicians said they were prepared to report impaired physicians and 64% said they were prepared to report incompetent ones, more than one-third, 36%, said they do not feel obligated by professional commitment to do so.

Most states (including Michigan) impose a statutory duty on physicians to report other physicians who they know are impaired. Furthermore, for those physicians who suffer from impairment, most states (including Michigan) have health professional recovery programs which support the recovery of its participants so they may safely return to practice while protecting the safety of the general public. By contacting such programs voluntarily and participating in the program, the physician can often avoid a disciplinary action. However, such programs are not necessarily appropriate in every circumstance. The decision as to whether to self-report to such a program is an important one with many potential ramifications and should be made only after careful consideration. Consultation with an experienced health care attorney is also a prudent course of action in such matters.

For more information on licensure or staff privilege matters, please contact Robert S. Iwrey, Esq. of The Health Law Partners at (248) 996-8510 or riwrey@thehlp.com.

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