January 4, 2013

When physicians suffer from alcohol abuse, drug dependency problems, or mental health issues, they are often referred to physician health programs (“PHPs”) that provide monitoring of their medical practices while they undergo necessary treatment, either voluntarily or involuntarily. In a recent study by a Colorado-based PHP, it was found that physicians who are monitored by a PHP reduce their risk of a paid medical malpractice claim against them to 20% below that of physicians who are not monitored by a PHP. The medical director of the Colorado PHP stated, “one advantage of PHP participation is increased safety and not just better health” and that the study’s preliminary findings “strongly suggest the need for early PHP involvement.”

With regard to the Colorado PHP’s experience, 40% of the monitored physicians were monitored voluntarily and 20% were “encouraged” to participate in the monitoring program, with about one-third having an underlying treatable psychiatric illness, one-third having significant psychosocial problems that affect their behavior, and one-third having no underlying psychiatric illness and no significant psychosocial problems that affect their behavior.

The study found no association between the risk of a paid medical malpractice claim and physicians suffering from substance abuse disorders or whether the physicians were required to be monitored or voluntarily subjected themselves to monitoring, “meaning that physicians who presented to the PHP who had a substance use disorder were no more likely to have a medical malpractice claim than those who presented without substance abuse, and the same for those who were mandated for evaluation compared to volunteers.”

The study found that male physicians and older physicians had an increased risk for medical malpractice claims, with specialists in family medicine, anesthesiology, general surgery, and obstetrics/gynecology most likely to be the subject of medical malpractice claims.

What Accounts For The Reduced Chances Of A Paid Medical Malpractice Claim For Physicians Participating in a PHP?

One of the study’s researchers suggested, “”It could be that participants learned skills during their treatment and recovery — skills to communicate better with colleagues, staff, and patients. It may be that experience with the PHP led participants to make use of other professional supports — that is, maybe to seek consultation earlier in their work. Or maybe they were more motivated to practice conservatively and adhere to standards of practice, given what they learned in the PHP program.”


Sometimes physicians commit medical malpractice because they are impaired by alcohol use, drug abuse, or have mental impairments. Those impairments do not excuse those physicians from failing to provide that level of medical care and treatment that reasonably competent physicians in the same or similar medical specialty under the same or similar circumstances and in the same or similar geographic area would have provided. If a patient suffers serious or permanent injuries as a result of medical negligence, it is doubtful that the victim of medical malpractice would feel any relief or feel any better knowing that the inadequate care was due, in part, to the physician’s impairment.

If you, a family member, or a friend have been injured as a result of suffering unnecessary harm as a result of a physician’s impairment or medical negligence, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney.

Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free at 800-295-3959 to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may agree to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim and file a medical malpractice case on your behalf, if appropriate.

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