ADDICTED DOCTORS ARE ALLOWED TO PRACTICE

Nearly all states have confidential rehabilitation programs that let doctors continue practicing as long as they stick with the treatment regimen. Nationwide, as many as 8,000 doctors may be in such programs. Most addiction specialists favor allowing doctors to continue practicing while in confidential treatment, as does the American Medical Association.

Between 10 percent and 15 percent of physicians nationwide will have a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives, a rate similar to that of the general population, according to widespread estimates. An estimated 7,500 to 8,000 practicing doctors are probably in confidential treatment, or about 1 percent of all physicians practicing in the U.S., said Dr. Greg Skipper, head of Alabama’s program and a leader of an upcoming study on the issue.

Some doctors have been accused of harming patients while they were in treatment.
In Montana, a patient accused a doctor enrolled in the state’s treatment program of not following up on her abnormal test results, delaying her cancer diagnosis by more than a year. Montana revoked Dr. Robert Schure’s license last year after he flunked out of treatment six times since 1994, according to board documents. The patient’s suit was settled for an undisclosed sum.

A North Carolina surgeon enrolled in the state’s program for alcoholism charged patients for one type of gastric bypass and then performed a shortcut procedure that led to serious complications, including stomach ulcers and vomiting, according to patients and a medical board investigation.

I don’t know the answer to this issue but our readers, as consumers of health care in America, should be aware of the potential problem. Do you think impaired physicians should be allowed to continue their medical practice while in treatment for drug or alcohol addiction?

Dan Frith

Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.