1 in 3 Physicians Balk at Reporting Incompetent Colleagues

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , July 15, 2010

Overall, the study underscores the need for the medical profession to better educate its members on their reporting duties to ensure safe and competent patient care, said John Fromson, MD, associate director of Postgraduate Medical Education, MGH Psychiatry, and also report co author.

"Those obligations include referring colleagues to physician health programs that can guide and monitor their recovery from substance use and mental disorders, Fromson said.

Among those who would not report a colleague, the most frequently cited reason was the anticipation that someone else would report or take care of the problem, as indicated by 19% of those surveyed. This was followed by the belief that nothing would ever happen even if a report was made—cited by 15%—and a fear of retribution, noted by 12%.

Other reasons associated with not reporting the impaired or incompetent physician were having that physician belong to one or two person practices or being a member of an underrepresented minority or a graduate of a foreign medical school. Respondents who came from a state with high, medium, or low rates of malpractice claims were not linked with a failure to report.

The American Medical Association's Code of Ethics requires colleagues to report those of whom they suspect are unable to practice medicine safely because of impairment or incompetence. Additional efforts on the part of medical societies, specialty and accrediting organizations, and hospitals are needed to reinforce the responsibilities of the medical community and to prepare physicians to deal with these difficult situations, the researchers said.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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