Medical ethics dictate that doctors report colleagues who are intoxicated or incompetent. However, a new survey shows that far too many doctors are not interested in reporting drunk or incompetent fellow physicians.
The survey was conducted at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, and included the participation of 1,891 doctors. Out of the doctors in the survey, 69 % reported that they were prepared to deal with impaired colleagues, while 64 % reported they were prepared to deal with incompetent colleagues. 17% of the reporting doctors had direct personal knowledge of an incompetent colleague, but only 67 % reported this matter.
So what’s going on with the 31-36% of doctors who are NOT prepared to deal with colleagues who are intoxicated or incompetent and the 33% who did not report an incompetent colleague? There are explanations for this seemingly illogical behavior. For one thing, some doctors are afraid of retribution from a vengeful fellow doctor, feel that someone else is taking care of the problem, or think nothing will happen based on the reporting. There’s also a feeling of empathy for another medical professional who may not be at the top of his game, or in control of himself. There are also other complex factors like race and medical education. Doctors from a racial minority or those who have studied in medical colleges outside the United States, would be less likely to report a colleague. Doctors, who are part of smaller practices, would also be less likely to rock the boat by reporting a colleague.
How doctors feel about reporting incompetent/intoxicated colleagues should not even be an issue here. The only thing to consider is the heightened risk to patients when they are under the care of a physician who is either drunk or incompetent. Perhaps the AMA could undertake a campaign to encourage doctors to report impaired or intoxicated colleagues, by assuring the reporting doctors that their colleagues will be treated compassionately, and by encouraging the entities to whom the reports are made to set up mechanisms to deal with such problems.
Above all, doctors who do not report intoxicated or incompetent colleagues need to understand that not only are they doing a disservice to their profession, but also to the very patients they are dedicated to serve.
The Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Miller Muller Mendelson and Kennedy are dedicated to the representation of injured victims of medical malpractice across the state of Indiana.