May 13, 2016
The May 7 Dispatch editorial, “Tough Medical Board is Good,” discusses the work of the State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) in protecting patients. It also suggests that physicians are “absolutely terrified” of the SMBO.
No one wants to see an impaired physician cause harm to a patient. We want that impaired physician to get treatment and once well, return to their profession in medicine.
Medicine can be a very stressful profession, and sometimes physicians become patients. They should not be so afraid of SMBO retribution that they fail to seek help. The SMBO is supposed to protect patients and when those patients are also physicians, the SMBO should be interested in facilitating their return to wellness. After all, mental illness, substance use disorders, and addiction are diseases, not behavior choices.
According to a 2015 Medscape article, it is estimated that on average the United States loses as many as 400 physicians to suicide each year. That number is the size of all the students in an average medical school. Physicians have a significantly higher risk of dying from suicide than the general population. Suicide is usually the result of untreated or inadequately treated depression. Depression is at least as common in the medical profession as in the general population, affecting an estimated 12% of males and 18% of females. Physician suicide and depression are problems we must address with early diagnosis and treatment. Fear of retribution from the SMBO can delay needed treatment and in that scenario, everyone loses.
Administrative burdens, prior authorization requirements, and “hamster wheel” medicine are negatively impacting physicians and their health, and cause physician burnout. According to a 2013 Medscape survey, more than 40% of U.S. physicians reported experiencing at least one symptom of burnout (loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment).
Patient safety is of the utmost importance. When physicians become patients they should receive the same compassionate, evidence-based treatment that others receive. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to recovery. Fear of SMBO retribution should not negatively impact a physician’s ability to seek help.
Thomas P. Houston, MD, FAAFP
Family Physician, Dublin, OH
President, Ohio Academy of Family Physicians
Media Contact Information:
Megan Smith, Director of Communications
Ohio Academy of Family Physicians
4075 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43214