You might shudder to think about it, but the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse among physicians is similar to the general public. In fact, about fifteen percent of physicians will be impaired at some point in their careers. Contrary to what you may think, reporting an impaired doctor may actually save their career and their freedom. To learn more about you might determine if a doctor is an addict, please read on, then contact one of our experienced New York physician defense lawyers.
What constitutes an impaired doctor?
According to a landmark article published by the American Medical Association, an impaired physician constitutes a medical professional who is unable, or potentially unable, to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients, because of physical or mental illness, including age-related deterioration, loss of motor skills or excessive use or abuse of drugs, including alcohol.
How do you identify a New York doctor as an addict?
Currently, no hard and fast metric exists by which one can objectively identify an impaired physician. Indeed, impaired physicians take even greater pains than the general public to hide their substance abuse issues. Substance abuse may malinger for up to fifteen years before it progresses to the point that the individual or their colleagues notice. Suspicion may start with a physician calling out sick more frequently than others or having more than the occasional flare-up with a nurse in the clinical area. Taken alone, neither of those signs mean that the physician has a dependence problem.
However, you might notice other alarming signs.
What are the possible signs of an impaired physician?
Substance abuse takes many subtle forms, but some common signs include:
- Discord in relationships, i.e. separations, break-ups and divorces
- Avoidance of peers
- Signs of depression
- Mood swings
- An inappropriate level of response to a stressful situation
- Showing up to work with a disheveled, sloppy or sleepy appearance
- Deteriorating handwriting
- Inappropriate orders or a higher-than-usual ordering of sample medications
While the individual exhibiting these warning signs might be your friend or coworker, you must remember that the safety of your patients is your top priority. Still, you should be judicious with whom you choose to share your concerns.
What happens if you report an impaired doctor in New York?
That will depend on where you reported your suspicions and/or observations. If you report this individual to a director and the doctor in question works in the Emergency Department, the director will most likely remove the practitioner from clinical responsibilities immediately and start a full investigation. This investigation will involve the director coming to the department to privately discuss the concerns with the suspected doctor and to outline the investigation. Said doctor will probably undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing as well as a mental health evaluation performed within days. These latter steps are to assess what further treatments the doctor may need.
A study of 904 doctors who have undergone substance abuse treatment found that seventy-nine percent of those treated returned to work within five years.
If you suspect you or a colleague may have a substance abuse issue, you should speak with Paul E. Walker before it is too late.
Contact our experienced New York City firm
If you are a medical professional accused of misconduct, contact the Walker Medical Law firm to set up a free initial consultation.