Addiction, depression, or any other medical condition that could interfere with a physician’s judgment or other faculties is considered an impairment. An impaired physician’s behavior can be self-destructive and bring harm to patients, staff, and colleagues as well.
The first step in intervening with a struggling colleague is to offer a genuine expression of concern by asking “How are you?”
If your colleague is in denial about his or her impairment or unwilling to discuss it and seek help, you may need to initiate a more formal group intervention involving friends and family as well as a professional who can facilitate the process. The purpose of the intervention is to present evidence of impairment to the person in a controlled setting. Those taking part in the intervention must be prepared to help the impaired physician get treatment immediately following the discussion, including transfer to an inpatient facility if appropriate, and must establish and clearly communicate consequences for rejecting help. Consequences may include suspension of clinic or hospital privileges, a report to the state licensing board, or even separation from one’s spouse. Without the threat of consequences, an impaired colleague is less likely to accept help and patient safety remains compromised.
Adapted from “Reaching Out to an Impaired Physician.”
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