Physician Suicide 101: Secrets, Lies & Solutions by Dr. Pamela Wible, M.D., will hopefully serve as a stepping-stone to start discussing the elephant in the room; Physician Health Programs (PHPs) and their relationship to physician suicide.
The current state-of-affairs in these once benevolent programs that served a dual purpose of helping and protecting the public from “impaired” physicians is one of unrestrained managerial authority and absolute power with no meaningful oversight, regulation or accountability.
Moreover, the authority bestowed on this group is both illegitimate and irrational. The Federation of State Physician Health Programs is composed of American Society of Addiction Medicine “specialists” in “Addiction Medicine.”
The ASAM is not even recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties as a bona fide specialty. It is a Self-Designated-Medical-Specialty; an AMA term used to keep track of what any group of doctors is calling themselves.
Many of the physicians running these programs had their licenses revoked and got them back by claiming salvation through the good graces of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step methodology. Many have felony convictions. Some have double felonies.
At best we have unqualified zealots. But one major problem I have heard over and over again from physicians forced into these programs is an absolute lack of justice, empathy and even civility by those in charge.
Perhaps the 12-step salvation is just a ruse for some of them; a convenient cloak under which to hide all manner of abuse with impunity and immunity.
These individuals have been granted unrestrained managerial prerogative and absolute power over doctors. They decide not only who to monitor but how that monitoring proceeds in every last detail. Our fates, literally, lie in the hands of this group. No more physicians should die by this system of institutional injustice, bullying and pseudoscience. The conflicts-of-interest are abhorrent and would be incomprehensible in any other venue.
Isn’t it time we take charge? And the solution is fairly simple.
Oversight, regulation, and auditing by OUTSIDE groups. That is how it’s done everywhere else. Why do these guys get a pass? Why would anyone be against procedural fairness and transparency in any situation? These are legitimate questions.
State Medical Societies, Departments of Public Health, the American Medical Association, the American Council on Graduate Medical Education, the Institute of Medicine and other Accreditation and Professional Organizations need to start addressing this.
It is a public heal emergency that is not going away. It needs to be addressed directly and with urgency.
Accountability is without exception. Hopefully this article will succeed in framing certain questions for the medical profession; questions that we all need to think about now before the door closes for good.