Will doc-addiction programs promise better patient protection?

While there's been much emphasis in the news recently on the healthcare industry's battle against patient drug abuse, physicians themselves are not immune to addiction. Substance-addicted physicians pose a severe risk to themselves and their patients, not just by upping the chance of mistakes but even creating circumstances in which doctors are driven to defraud patients and colleagues.

A physician in Corona, Calif., for example, recently lost her medical license and will spend five years in prison in connection with stealing patients' identities and forging colleagues' signatures to obtain more than 30,000 prescription painkillers, the Southwest Riverside News Network reported.

A recent study indicates that nearly one in every two U.S. doctors has experienced symptoms of professional burnout, of which a common consequence is substance abuse. Medical boards and other organizations can serve an important role in helping doctors avoid and overcome addiction.

The trouble is that there's no definite best path to rescuing doctors from the perils of addiction while protecting their careers and patient safety at the same time, as illustrated by a recent story from California Watch.

According to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, California is one of only five states in the nation that does not have a program to oversee services for doctors with addiction or mental health challenges. A now-defunct program shut down five years ago after audits revealed that it did too much to protect physicians from scrutiny and not enough to protect public safety. Steinberg is carrying a new bill to help "physicians get the help they need to practice medicine safely before something bad happens to a patient."

While details, such as funding and contracting issues, still being ironed out, designers of a new bill hope to avoid its predecessor's pitfalls, particularly by not diverting complaints about physicians away from the medical board.

To learn more:
- read the article from California Watch
- see the story from the Southwest Riverside News Network