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Doctors reluctant to report colleagues for being impaired, incompetent

From the archive: This story is more than 10 years old.

Doctors reluctant to report colleagues for being impaired, incompetent

The Associated Press: "Your doctor could be drunk, addicted to drugs or outright incompetent, but other physicians may not blow the whistle. A new survey finds that many American physicians fail to report troubled colleagues to authorities, believing that someone else will take care of it, that nothing will happen if they act or that they could be targeted for retribution. A surprising 17 percent 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 appeared in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association (Johnson, 7/13).

The Los Angeles Times: "About 70% of physicians said they feel prepared to report impaired physicians, and 64% said they were prepared to report incompetent ones. But more than one-third, 36%, said they do not feel obligated by professional commitment to do so. Physicians with less experience, 10 years or fewer, were most willing to report impaired or incompetent colleagues. Those with greater experience, 20 years or more, were less likely to feel that it was their responsibility to do so. … Pediatricians and family practice doctors were the least likely to say they felt prepared to deal with impaired or incompetent colleagues; anesthesiologist and psychologists apparently felt most prepared" (Schiewe, 7/13).

Reuters: "The most common reason for not reporting a colleague was that the doctor thought someone else was addressing the problem, but doctors also worried that either nothing would happen or the colleague would be punished too strictly if they reported their concerns. Doctors in solo and two-person practices were the least likely to have reported a colleague -- only 44 percent of those who knew a colleague was impaired or incompetent told authorities" (7/13).

The Wall Street Journal Blog: "There are a few different options for how a doc would go about reporting a colleague, including licensing boards, medical societies, clinical supervisors and hospital peer-review groups, according to the AMA, whose code of ethics requires reporting impaired, unethical or incompetent physicians" (Hobson, 7/13).

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that DesRoches said "'self-regulation is our best alternative, but these findings suggest that we really need to strengthen that. We don't have a good alternative system'" (Gardner, 7/13).

ABC News includes a video segment about the issue (7/13).

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service. It is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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