Confidentiality in Doctor Rehab Programs Called Into Question
Confidential programs that allow physicians to continue practicing while receiving treatment for addiction to drugs or alcohol are drawing criticism from some patient advocates, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
Almost all states have confidential rehabilitation programs that allow doctors to see patients as long as they keep up with their treatment regimen. Last summer, the Medical Board of California announced that it would abolish its program, citing an inability to protect patients or help addicted doctors.
Nationwide, about 7,500 to 8,000 doctors -- roughly 1% of practicing U.S. physicians -- are in such programs, according to Greg Skipper, head of the Alabama program. The American Medical Association approves of doctors continuing to practice while receiving substance abuse treatment.
The California program ends June 30, 2008, and if no new program is adopted, the rules "could revert back to the zero-tolerance policy in place before 1980," which stripped the licenses of any doctors found to have a drug or alcohol problem, according to the AP/Chronicle.
Richard Fantozzi, president of the California medical board, said, "To hide something from consumers, something so blatant, ... it's unconscionable today."
Julie Fellmeth, director of the University of San Diego's Center for Public Interest Law, said, "Patients have no way to protect themselves from these doctors." However, opponents of these programs have not been able to cite any documented cases in which participating doctors have harmed patients while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the AP/Chronicle reports.
Those who support confidential rehab believe the programs rarely have negative effects on patients and note that eliminating the programs could have far more negative effects. Sandra Bressler, the California Medical Association's senior director for medical board affairs, said, "If you don't have confidential participation, you don't get people into the program" (Wohlsen, AP/Houston Chronicle, 12/18).