Clinical Psychiatry News (Letter to the editor) PHPs: part of the problem

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I was heartened to read Doug Brunk’s recent article on the need to address the problem of physician suicide within the medical profession (“Medicine grapples with physician suicide,” February 2015, p. 1). As a physician who knows of many suicides of good doctors, I have been working with Dr. Pamela Wible to expose this phenomenon gradually (as it is difficult to get one’s head around if presented all at once) and have been making some gains.

Another issue tied to the incredible stresses endured by physicians is rooted in the groupthink within state physician health programs (PHPs).

Dr. John R. Knight and Dr. J. Wesley Boyd (who collectively have more than 25 years’ experience with the Massachusetts PHP) have been trying to expose the ethical and managerial issues tied to the “diversion” or “safe haven” programs for physicians with alcohol or drug problems (J. Addict. Med. 2012;6:243-6). My posts on also examine these issues.

Meanwhile, a 2014 performance audit of the North Carolina Physicians Health Program found that “abuse could occur but not be detected” and revealed conflicts of interest between the state’s PHP programs and “PHP-approved” assessment centers. Another key finding is the PHP “created the appearance of conflicts of interest” by allowing treatment centers that receive referrals to fund its retreats and scholarships for physicians who could not afford treatment directly to treatment centers. The audit also uncovered other disturbing practices that lead to undue pressure on North Carolina’s physicians. For details, check out the report here.

More recently, several health professionals have filed a class action suit in the Eastern District of Michigan against several entities, including the state’s Health Professional Recovery Program. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the involuntary program has become a “highly punitive” one in which “health professionals are forced into extensive and unnecessary substance abuse/dependence treatment.”

Getting the word out about the impact of PHPs on physicians (and other health care professionals) has proven difficult for many reasons, but we must remain vigilant. The health of our fellow physicians and the medical profession depends on it.

Michael Lawrence Langan, M.D.

Brookline, Mass.

Citation Details

Title: PHPs: part of the problem.(Letter to the editor)
Author: Michael Lawrence Langan
Publication: Clinical Psychiatry News (Magazine/Journal)
Date: April 1, 2015
Publisher: International Medical News Group
Volume: 43    Issue: 4    Page: 14(1)