Many doctors don’t blow whistle on colleagues

This post was authored by Rodd Santomauro and posted to The Eye Opener on July 16th, 2010.

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Picture this scenario:  You are a doctor, and one of your very closest friends is also a physician.  You know for a fact that he/she has a terrible substance abuse problem and/or it has become readily apparent to you that they are incompetent within the practice of medicine.  You see it day in and day out.  There have been a few “close calls” where your friend’s impairment could have caused catastrophic results to one or more of their patients.  Your friend conceals their problems well.  What would you do?

A new study recently published by the American Medical Association (AMA) addresses this and other similar scenarios.  How frequently this occurs and why more physicians don’t report their colleagues’ problems were highlighted in a recent article in the USA Today, that reviewed the AMA’s study:

A surprising 17% of the doctors surveyed had direct, personal knowledge of an impaired or incompetent physician in their workplaces, said the study’s lead author, Catherine DesRoches of Harvard Medical School.

One-third of those doctors had not reported the matter to authorities such as hospital officials or state medical boards. The findings, appearing in Wednesday’s Journal of theAmerican Medical Association, are based on a 2009 survey of 1,891 practicing U.S. doctors.

There are several reasons for not reporting colleagues to the proper agencies.  Most notably, the fear that their colleagues would lose their medical license and livelihood.  However, as the article details, doctors have an ethical obligation to report other practitioners’ substance abuse problems and lack of competency issues:

The American Medical Association and other professional groups say doctors have an ethical obligation to make such reports. And many states require doctors to tell authorities about colleagues who endanger patients because of alcoholism, drug abuse or mental illness.

“I don’t think there’s any excuse for less than 100% of physicians holding true to these ideals,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the AMA Institute for Ethics.

Despite these ethical protocols, the concern and problems with non-reporting continue. So again we ask, what would you do in this situation, and what do you want to see done to correct this apparent problem within the medical profession?

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