Program seeks to assess competency of troubled docs

Although health reform promises to expand health coverage to millions of people, it does not address the phenomenon of burnout among those providing that care, Dr. Kevin Pho, who blogs at KevinMD.com, told AOL News. And according to some, state medical boards aren't adequately handling the bad behavior the pressure may breed either.

Enter a University of California program, the Physician Assessment and Clinical Education Program (PACE), which strives to serve as a somewhat soft place to land for troubled doctors. When a physician's license and career are on the line as a result of harmful or incompetent behavior, PACE faculty evaluate doctors' skills, knowledge and judgment and put them through a rigorous program to shore up deficiencies.

While a handful of other competency-assessment programs exist, PACE is widely regarded as the largest and most comprehensive, and is serving as the model for similar programs under development, reports the Wall Street Journal. The program uses a mix of computer-based simulations, multiple-choice exams, cognitive-function screenings and hands-on observation to assess doctors. These tools, plus team members' gut instincts, help determine whether physicians can be safely returned to practice.

When mental stress, substance dependency and similar factors are taken into account, Harvard University patient-safety expert Lucian Leape estimates that at least one-third of physicians will have a problem that poses a threat to safe patient care at some point in their careers. But with a growing shortage of physicians, medical regulators say that helping doctors and putting them back into practice is better for patients in the long run, according to the Journal.

Since its creation in 1996, PACE has performed over 1,000 competency assessments. About 10 percent of the physicians have failed the assessment program, and most of them have surrendered their licenses, had them revoked or had clinical privileges at hospitals restricted. About half were found to be completely competent with no need for remedial training, while the remaining 40 percent had deficiencies that required weeks or months of remedial education, reports PACE founder, Dr. William Norcross.

To learn more:
- read this Wall Street Journal Health Blog post
- read this AOL News piece

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