Many state medical licensing boards, Physician Health Programs and peer review committees operate with no oversight and with dangerous impunity.
Physicians are licensed by a medical licensing board (“MLB”) in the state(s) in which they practice and are often licensed in multiple states. When they work in a hospital setting, they must also be credentialed to serve on that medical staff and may be subject to clinical performance review by a specialized peer review committee. A physician can be anonymously reported to a MLB, PHP or peer review committee for a variety of reasons.
If the allegation is of a substance abuse problem or a mental illness, or that the physician has engaged in unprofessional behavior, s/he may be reported to the MLB for discipline; referred by the MLB for a “fitness for duty” evaluation to be conducted by an exclusively contracted Physicians Health Program (“PHP”); or subjected to an ad hoc “peer review.” (A “fitness for duty” evaluation is essentially a mandatory physical or psychiatric assessment. A “peer review” is a clinical performance assessment by fellow staff physicians, generally of the same clinical specialty.)
State MLBs, peer review committees and PHPs were created by state legislatures, hospitals and medical societies with three aims: to protect the safety of patients; to ensure quality of clinical care; and to provide non-punitive intervention with specialized diagnostic assessment, treatment and rehabilitative services where indicated to physicians whose clinical performance is perceived to be suboptimal or who may be grappling with a potentially impairing condition affecting their careers.
Abundant evidence strongly suggests that these disciplinary and assessment activities are too often not being conducted according to requisite professional or legal standards.
Many physicians in states across the country have revealed that they have been subjected unfairly to these procedures and have experienced utter powerlessness when contesting these entities’ actions. They have called attention to the strong potential for bias in the assessments by designated examiners, accompanied by the complete denial of any opportunity to contest the assessment’s findings, to appeal the decision or to seek a second opinion. Many have commented on what appears to be a pattern of “self-dealing” in making coerced referrals to private programs affiliated with the PHP.
Some of these powerful corporate and state government entities are abusing their authority and irreparably harming the careers of well qualified and compassionate physicians. Even worse, in doing so, they are needlessly and dangerously jeopardizing these physicians’ patients’ care when there is no valid concern registered about patient well-being.
Each physician, naive to the dangers of the process, goes into this immensely costly and career-jeopardizing journey essentially alone, too often without knowledgeable counsel. From the outset, they are placed in an inherently disadvantaged position and their inordinately costly legal challenge is almost invariably futile.
Until now, there has been no specialized advocacy organization to support and advise these physicians and their counsel and raise awareness of the imminent perils they face.