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Help for Addicted, Impaired Physicians Underutilized

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, March 25, 2013

Remember the horrible story out of New Hampshire last year about the radiology technician who went from hospital to hospital spreading hepatitis C?  

Former hospital technician David Matthew Kwiatkowski was indicted on seven counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud after at least 32 cath patients tested positive for a genetic sequence of the virus virtually identical to his.

Sadly, reports of drug problems among clinical staff are not new. Approximately 10% of the population has a substance use disorder, and the number among physicians may be as high as 15%, since their authority allows them greater access to prescription drugs.

But despite the potential harm an impaired colleague can cause, most healthcare workers turn a blind eye to a teammate's problems.

More than nine out of 10 (96%) of respondents agreed that physicians should report impaired or incompetent colleagues to relevant authorities, but nearly half (45%) who had witnessed impaired or incompetent colleagues said they had not reported them, according to a survey of physicians published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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