Good Docs get sick too—and then they get better

 

For doctors, patients always come first. They work tirelessly every day taking care of those who are sick and in need of care. But doctors can get sick too, and when this happens, like their patients, they often need help.

Unfortunately, even with treatment, a physician’s illness can affect their ability to provide safe patient care. That’s when the College’s Physician Health Monitoring Program (PHMP) comes in.

PHMP is a confidential, non-adversarial, non-punitive route to manage physician health issues outside of the College’s complaints process. The PHMP works closely with the Alberta Medical Association’s Physician and Family Support Program and other healthcare professionals as needed to keep doctors in practice whenever their health permits. While the focus of PHMP is to ensure safe patient care, evidence shows ongoing support and monitoring of ill physicians can improve outcomes. This is the credo of PHMP staff Dr. Jerry Beach, Dr. Rubeena Ahmad and physician health advisor Leanne Minckler.

background5.png

In 2018, approximately 85-90% of physicians participating in the PHMP remained in practice, or returned to practice after a period of leave. Only a small number voluntarily withdrew from practice for an extended period, or withdrew permanently to ensure their own safety and that of their patients.

In 2018, the PHMP team supported and monitored more than 200 physicians with health conditions ranging from substance use disorders and medical issues, to blood borne infections and mental health. Some physicians enter the PHMP by referral from other College programs, such as prescription monitoring or professional conduct. Others come to the program’s attention via treating physicians, employers, colleagues or universities. The majority self-report.

However, PHMP is concerned there is considerable under-reporting. With approximately 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing a mental health issue in their lifetime and 3-4% of Albertans reporting a substance use disorder in any given year, the number of physicians getting needed support seems relatively low. This is despite the fact that self-reporting and reporting of a colleague with a health issue affecting practice are expectations under current CPSA Standards of Practice to ensure good medical practice and patient safety.

So why don’t more physicians self-report?

“We are the medical regulator and part of it may be physicians are afraid of losing their practice permit,” explains PHMP Assistant Registrar, Dr. Beach. “But PHMP is not about that. We make every attempt to monitor physicians so they can stay in practice and practice safely.”

In 2018, approximately 85-90% of physicians participating in the PHMP remained in practice, or returned to practice after a period of leave. Only a small number voluntarily withdrew from practice for an extended period, or withdrew permanently to ensure their own safety and that of their patients.

Still, reporting a health condition to the College is daunting. To help, PHMP staff take time to explain how the program works and what to expect. They clarify how they collect information with the physician’s consent, how they assess risks and impacts on practice and under what circumstances any further assessment is necessary. They also explain how management of a health condition can help keep doctors in practice. Finally, they listen and answer questions to help physicians feel more at ease.

“Having a health issue does not make a bad doctor,” stresses Dr. Ahmad, practising physician and Senior Medical Advisor for PHMP. “In fact, it often makes them better since they can relate more to their patients, with the added insight of having been a patient themselves.”

The PHMP wants physicians with health issues affecting their practice to seek help. Whether that’s from PHMP, the Alberta Medical Association’s Physician and Family Support Program, employer programs or treating healthcare professionals, it’s important physicians get the same care and compassion they provide to their patients. They deserve it.