OAFP President Tom Houston, MD, responded on behalf of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians submitting a letter-to-the-editor referencing the May 5 The Columbus Dispatch editorial “Tough Medical Board is Good.”
“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 is stressful and sometimes physicians become patients. They should not be so afraid of SMBO retribution that they fail to seek help. The SMBO protects patients and when those patients are physicians they 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 equivalent to the population of an entire 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. Early diagnosis and treatment is the answer. 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. Physician burnout is real. 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.”