Third of Doctors Wouldn’t Report Incompetent or Problem Doctors

A full third of U.S. doctors indicate that they would not report a colleague who was too impaired or incompetent to do his or her job, according to the findings of a recent study. 

U.S. researchers found that many physicians who knew there were other doctors not up to the task of taking care of their patients did not think it was up to them to report it. The study, published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, notes that peer monitoring and reporting are the “primary mechanisms” for identifying doctors who are so impaired or incompetent that they put patients at risk of serious injury from medical malpractice.

The researchers used survey data collected from nearly 2,000 U.S. physicians in the fields of anesthesiology, cardiology, family practice, general surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry. They found that only 64% agreed that they had a professional commitment to report physicians who were “significantly impaired or otherwise incompetent to practice.” Only 69% thought they were prepared to deal with an impaired or incompetent colleague if the situation arose.

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The study also found that 17% of the physicians surveyed actually knew of impaired or incompetent doctors, and only two-thirds of them reported the matter to the proper authorities. The most frequent answer given by physicians as to why they were not reporting dangerous colleagues was that they thought someone else was already handling the problem.

The study follows a report earlier this year by Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, which determined that even when bad doctors were reported, many state medical boards failed to take action to protect patients from potential medical mistakes.

Researchers determined that on average only 3.05 serious disciplinary actions were taken for every 1,000 doctors. Minnesota ranked the lowest, with only 1.07 actions per 1,000 physicians. The state most likely to discipline doctors was Alaska, with 7.89 serious actions per 1,000 physicians.

The problem was highlighted in December when Dr. Earl Bradley, a Delaware pediatrician, was arrested on 471 counts of child rape and sexual exploitation. Bradley is accused of raping 103 children between 1998 and 2009, and often videotaped the assaults. Bradley had been investigated twice before, in 2005 and 2008, for alleged claims of excessive kissing and improper vaginal exams, but the investigations did not lead to an arrest, and there was no report submitted to the state’s medical board.


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