Develop policies to handle doc impairment--before you need them

Samuel Gerson, an emergency room doctor at the UC San Diego Health System, who is at risk for losing his medical license over his former abuse of alcohol and narcotics, is only one example of the growing prevalence of the impaired physician.

Doctors tend to have a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse than the general public, Sherry Franklin, M.D., president of the San Diego Medical Society, told NBC San Diego. She noted the high demands of medical school, residency and medical practice will sometimes cause burn-out, depression and anxiety, which can lead to substance abuse.

While programs aimed at preventing substance problems and helping already impaired physicians get well and return to practice are critical to resolving the problem, at the practice level you have more immediate decisions to make should a physician pose a risk to your patients.

In particular, you need to have policies in place for disciplining and possibly terminating impaired physicians, although many practices do not, according to American Medical News.

"Having policies and procedures in place in the event of a partially or totally impaired physician is like having a prenup agreement," Neil Maxwell, a New York attorney specializing in healthcare regulatory matters for solo and small medical practices, told amednews. "It lays out exactly how the practice will act in this situation."

As part of your policy, experts recommend you specify at least the following items:

  • How shareholders will handle with dissolution of the partnership, if necessary, plus what would happen if the partner took on a lesser job or worked fewer hours
  • The practice's expectations for standards of care that reflect the community's expectations
  • A process to report any deficiencies to a supervisor without fear of retribution or dismissal, and an opportunity for the person of concern to discuss the situation and file an appeal

To learn more:
- read the article from American Medical News
- see the story from NBC San Diego