[Note to Reader: This is “Part Two” in a 2-part blog-post. Please go to Archives for “Part One.”]
In seeking to maximize patient safety, all U.S. states offer some form of an “impaired healthcare professionals program” aimed at assisting doctors, nurses and others in the healthcare field who’re struggling with a substance use disorder to find recovery and eventually return to practicing in their specific field of medicine.
However, given the tendency of healthcare professionals (and their colleagues and family members) to avoid reporting any problems with alcohol and/or drugs—due to fear of possible legal, professional, financial and social consequences—these state programs, by and large, are woefully underused. Therefore, many doctors and nurses are not being evaluated and treated for their addiction, jeopardizing both their patients and themselves.
It’s important to realize the fear of losing one’s medical licensure is unfounded and should not stop a doctor or nurse from seeking help with any substance use issue. According to a June 1, 2015 article posted by the Butler Center for Research, “Many state physician health programs (PHPs) allow healthcare professionals (HCPs) to return to work after treatment and a ‘fitness-for-duty’ assessment. They also offer resources for concerns related to licensure, employment, medical reputation and finding HCP-specific Twelve-Step support following treatment. Five years after successfully completing their primary treatment via PHPs, 95% of HCPs are licensed and employed in the health care field.”
You may be wondering, “What can I do if I (or a healthcare professional I know) am(is) facing alcohol- or drug-related issues?”
The best “first step” would be to get in touch with the state physician health program (PHP), since their staff has the necessary expertise and resources to address healthcare professionals’ substance use issues most effectively. They’ll facilitate an intervention and present to the healthcare professional HCPs the type and scope of programs available to them. It should be noted PHPs often allow doctors or nurses to start a treatment program anonymously and confidentially, if they do so voluntarily.
The type of addiction treatment program used by healthcare professionals necessitates a higher level of treatment intervention, more intensive treatment and follow-through monitoring, as well as more comprehensive continuing care plans, than “normal” treatment programs—since patients’ safety is involved.
State-certified PHPs also provide consultation and guidance regarding all aspects of maintaining or regaining medical licensure and associated matters.
The “good news” is there is a high success rate among healthcare professionals who seek treatment through PHPs—over 80% of those who complete their treatment program have been found to remain sober for five years, per a 2008 longitudinal study. And according to the same study, 95% of those doctors and nurses who completed their primary treatment programs were found to be licensed and working in their respective healthcare field five years after finishing their program requirements.
In conclusion, while the fact remains healthcare professionals who have a substance use disorder are not only endangering their own lives and well-being, but that of their patients, help is available. State PHPs offer specialized treatment for those facing addiction issues, programs which follow more intensive guidelines than normal treatment programs, in order to maximize patient safety and create the possibility for the healthcare professional to maintain their medical licensure and ability to resum