Doctors Reporting Doctors

In an environment like a hospital or clinic you’d hope that a doctor or caregiver haphazardly prescribing medications, drinking on the job, or acting totally incompetent would be reported by their peers.

A recent Journal of American Medical Association survey of almost 2,000 doctors may surprise you, though.  Figures show that more than a third of doctors don’t think it is their responsibility to report a colleague who is unfit to practice medicine.  Meanwhile, 69 percent of doctors polled that knew of an impaired peer actually blew the whistle.

When the study looked at specific types of doctors, anesthesiologists were found to be the most responsible when it came to reporting inept colleagues.  On the other end of the scale were doctors that aren’t required to perform as many procedures, such as pediatricians.

The reason doctors neglect to report problems are a little surprising, too.  About 19 percent of doctors that were aware of a situation failed to act because they thought someone else would take the initiative instead.  Another reason given, by about 15 percent of doctors polled, was that they thought there would be no consequences for the offending party.  Then there’s the 12 percent of doctors who feared some sort of revenge or “payback” from reporting a colleague.

In an NPR interview with Catherine DesRoches of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy more light is shed on the subject.  She says that many doctors, especially those in small practices, depend on referrals from other physicians.  If word got out that a doctor had reported a peer, their referrals could potentially dry up.  She also points out that doctors that have come to the US from abroad are far less likely to report.

Asked how this problem could be remedied, DesRoches says that reporting systems need to be confidential, if not kept totally anonymous.  Reporting requirements vary from state to state, as do the methods used to deal with offending physicians.  Perhaps more uniform policies and early education on reporting unfit doctors is what’s needed to ensure patient safety and peace of mind.

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