Currently, if you were to apply to become a physician, you would be required to disclose to the Florida Medical Board any past mental health illnesses and substance abuse issues. The committee members for the Board, which oversees physician licensure and discipline, are starting to question whether or not these questions should be on the application form, and met last December to discuss changing/removing these questions. They will be meeting again later this month to officially address the matter.
Many states have already modified their applications to reflect only current issues. The committee stressed the importance of the balance between the safety of the patients and only asking questions that address whether the physicians current health would impede their ability to care for patients’ safely, stating that treated past mental illnesses may not affect ones current ability to safely practice medicine.
In January, 15,000 physicians were surveyed in regards to their mental health. Of these physicians, 44% reported feeling burnt out, blaming bureaucratic demands, long hours and other factors. Of these 44% two-thirds said they did not plan to seek out help, 11% reported feeling down and 4% said they were clinically depressed. And, of those who reported being clinically depressed, 14% said they have made mistakes as a result.
Many of these physicians are reluctant to seek help, due to a fear that their colleagues will perceive them as weak or unfit to practice medicine. They are also afraid it will deter their ability to renew their license. A Naples physician, who is active with the Collier Medical Society, agreed that this stigma and fear of losing their license is why doctors refuse to get help, sometimes causing patients to suffer.
The Florida Medical Association also agrees that the state medical boards should be reviewing the licensure steps to determine if some of the questions being asked about past illnesses are stigmatizing and intrusive, when there is no reason to believe the physician is unable to practice safely.
Questions about a history of mental health diagnosis and treatment, when they are not relevant to whether the physician can practice medicine safely, can actually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the Florida Medical Association, the application questions must focus on current impairment and not on illness, diagnosis or previous treatment in order to be compliant with the ADA.
The federation wants the State Medical Board to focus on the current impairment only. Doctors with a history of mental illness or drug abuse who have been successfully treated will benefit immensely if these questions about past impairment are dropped.
Samantha Heffernan is a Miami personal injury blogger. She has been blogging about dangerous intersections, car accidents, medical negligence and other related injuries in Miami for several years.