The results of a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital were
made public earlier this month. The study looked at whether doctors report
other doctors who are incompetent or impaired by substance abuse.
The study found that more than 30 percent of the two thousand physicians
who responded to the survey did not believe that they should have a responsibility
to report incompetent or impaired doctors, despite the fact that most
professional medical organizations require doctors to do so, and despite
the fact that patients’ safety may be at risk.
The study also found that 17 percent of the doctors surveyed had encountered
an impaired or incompetent doctor during the last three years, but only
two thirds of them actually turned the doctor in.
The three most commonly stated reasons for failure to report an incompetent
doctor were: (1) a belief that someone else would take care of the problem;
(2) a belief that nothing would happen if the doctor were reported; and
(3) fear of retribution.
Doctors did indicate that they were more likely to report impaired doctors
than incompetent doctors because incompetence is a subjective judgment.
Medical organizations are now encouraging doctors to report both impairment
and incompetence in order to protect patients in the future.