Survey finds one-third of doctors do not report impaired or incompetent colleagues

A new survey by the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital finds that one-third of doctors did not report peers that displayed incompetent or impaired behavior due to substance abuse or mental health problems.

The results were based on responses from 1,891 doctors, ranging from cardiologists to psychiatrists. Out of those responses, 17 percent or 321 doctors had “direct, personal knowledge of a physician who was impaired or incompetent to practice medicine” HealthDay reports. Two-thirds, or 214, of those physicians reported the suspected colleague.

Doctors who kept silent gave reasons such as believing that another physician would take care of the reporting, fear that the physician would find out who had reported them, and a lack of confidence that the physician would actually suffer any consequences as a result of the report.

The study does not address what exactly happened to the physicians that had been turned in. Instead, the authors focus on recommending improvements to the reporting system, such as strengthening confidentiality protections, as well as letting physicians know the outcome of their report.

Here is WebMD’s breakdown of the results:

  • 64% agreed with the professional commitment to report doctors who are significantly impaired or otherwise incompetent to practice medicine.
  • 69% reported being prepared to deal effectively with impaired colleagues in their practice.
  • 64% reported being prepared to deal with incompetent colleagues.
  • 17% said they had direct knowledge of a peer incompetent to practice in their hospital, group, or practice.
  • 67% of this 17% reported the colleague to relevant authorities.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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