The problem is, at any given time, thousands of doctors across the United States are on probation. If you are being treated by a doctor or are going to have surgery by a doctor would you like to know if he or she has been suspended for drug abuse? If a doctor were treating your child would you like to know if that doctor has past criminal convictions? Therein lies the problem. It is often difficult to near impossible for the average consumer of health care to find this out.
A physician/patient relationship is built on trust. When you go in to see your doctor they should take a history and perform a physical examination. They ask you invasive questions about your past medical conditions, what your current problem is and then examine you. These questions are oftentimes invasive and sometimes embarrassing to answer. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot. Imagine asking your doctor, “Doctor Jones, have you ever been suspended from the practice of medicine, why were you suspended, are you still on probation—how about criminal convictions, have you ever had your drug-dispensing license investigated by the DEA?
One of the largest problems with doctors in the United States is drug abuse. Approximately 10% to 12% of physicians will develop a substance use disorder during their careers, a rate similar to or exceeding that of the general population. The problem of course is that these physicians are not ordinary addicts, or what we may think of as ordinary addicts—perhaps a blue-collar worker or a teenager. These are trusted and revered members of our society that are using a scalpel to remove a diseased part of your body. If they have an error in judgment they can cause serious harm and even kill you or a loved one.
So what is the solution? One of the leading consumer advocacy groups in the United States is Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports recently released an article titled “What You Don't know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You” by Rachel Rabkin Peachman. It is a terrific article!
In the Consumer Report article Lisa McGiffert, who directs the project states, “The onus shouldn't be on patients to investigate their physicians…Doctors on probation should be required to tell their patients of their status.” We could not agree more! In fact most of the population agrees with this premise.
- 82% of Americans favor the idea of doctors having to tell patients they are on probation and why.
- 66% of Americans lean toward keeping doctors from seeing patients until their probationary period ends.
State medical boards are in charge of licensing doctors. They are also in charge of investigating complaints and imposing sanctions—including probation and even permanent suspension. When these decisions are made we believe they should be made public and be readily available. The idea of doctors policing themselves has merit but without transparency there is the appearance of favoritism and secrecy. Is this what we want in our health care system? We think not!