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Health Data Breaches Multiplying

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YET – Fines Remain Rare

By Charles Ornstein @charlesornstein

[ProPublica]

Federal health watchdogs say they are cracking down on organizations that don’t protect the privacy and security of patient records, but data suggests otherwise.

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Fines Remain Rare Even As Health Data Breaches Multiply

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data

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SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND IMPAIRED PHYSICIANS

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On Physician Health Programs [Help or Hindrance?]

[By Eric A. Dover MD]

Approximately 10-12% of physicians will develop a drug or alcohol problem at some point during their career. If physicians are impaired, they should be able to seek help from a firm but supportive and fair resource—one that demands sobriety and can determine when physicians are safe to practice.

About PHPs

Physicians with substance use disorders often seek the assistance of a state physician health program (PHP). Some physicians engage willingly with PHPs, but most are compelled to do so either by their hospital or their board of medicine.  PHPs meet with, assess, and monitor physicians who have been referred to them for substance use or other mental and behavioral health problems.

In most states, physicians who comply with any and all demands of the PHP often may continue to work, provided their sobriety is ensured through drug testing and other means. Many state boards of medicine rely completely on the PHPs for guidance about how to deal with impaired physicians.  PHPs are therefore extremely powerful.

The Problem

The problem with PHPs, though, is that despite their enormous power, they are generally barely known to most physicians and often operate with little oversight and no real means of appealing their recommendations.

To compound matters, evaluation/treatment centers and PHPs are often financially dependent on one another: Centers depend on referrals from PHPs for their viability and, reciprocally, PHP regional and national meetings are often heavily sponsored by these centers.

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Stress

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Largely Unknown Practices

Because PHP practices are largely unknown to physicians until they themselves are referred to one, physicians who do register complaints about standard PHP practice are often dismissed as bellyaching. But, some voices of concern have been heard.

For example, several years ago, a paper was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine outlining concerns about standard PHP practice, which included the points raised above; along with others.

More recently, a group of North Carolina physicians complained about their state PHP to the state auditor. The auditor conducted an investigation and found poor oversight of the PHP by both the state medical society and the board of medicine, a lack of due process for physicians who disputed the PHP’s evaluations and/or recommendations, and multiple instances of potential conflicts of interest.

And so, some authorities suggest a national federation of PHPs to implement national standards for its members and commence routine audits of its members.

Assessment

Doctors who are unsafe to practice medicine ought to be prevented from doing so, but every doctor who enters any kind of treatment or monitoring program should be treated respectfully, and fairly, monitored appropriately, and have legitimate avenues of appealing decisions about their care.

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ABOUT

Dr. Eric Dover is a board certified family practice and primary care physician in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles [UCLA] School of Medicine.

Conclusion

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