Colorado’s healthcare community is experiencing unprecedented disruption – from the COVID-19 pandemic to lost revenue and furloughed colleagues to changes in policy related to delivering safe healthcare. These challenges will result in risks to the overall wellness of our health care providers, with a direct impact to their personal, behavioral and physical health.
Discouragingly, the state of Colorado is taking away an important piece of the support program that prioritizes physician health and well-being, helping them to provide better quality of care to their patients.
For the last 35 years, the state has held a long-standing precedent of ensuring that all physicians, physician assistants and anesthesiology assistants who voluntarily seek help through a state peer assistance program, funded through physician licensing fees, will receive confidential treatment as long as they remain compliant with their treatment plan.
Without explanation or consultation with the medical community, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), decided to make a change that will end a proven and effective peer-to-peer support program that helps doctors. The head-scratching, bureaucratic change goes into effect later this year and requires all physicians who voluntarily seek treatment through this program to sign a release of privacy information.
The result? Doctors will cease using the program and patient safety could suffer.
Check out these news articles on the issue:
Why We Should Care?
The peer assistance program provides direct assistance services for licensed physicians, physician assistants and anesthesiology assistants who are facing any emotional, psychological or medical challenges. The program helps with all medical conditions including burnout, depression including suicidality, behavioral concerns, chronic medical illnesses/disorders, and substance abuse. Following a request for proposals, a new provider was awarded the peer assistance contract to begin on Nov. 1, 2020, and the state has requested that the new vendor release the privacy for participants, thereby creating an immediate barrier for participation for front-line doctors.
The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that about 27 percent of medical students and 29 percent of resident physicians experience depression or depressive symptoms over the course of their training. Also, physicians have a higher risk of suicide than the general population. It’s too early to tell, but the stresses of COVID-19 are sure to increase these numbers.
Signing away privacy and sharing mental health histories or treatment plans with the state can cost doctors their reputations and their ability to practice medicine. The current program’s voluntary track, developed over decades with the Colorado Medical Board’s awareness and involvement, results in doctors seeking evaluation and getting the help they need, while ensuring confidentiality.
Indeed, a study done for the Mayo Clinic found that “Nearly 40 percent of physicians reported that they would be reluctant to seek formal medical care for treatment of a mental health condition because of concerns about repercussions to their medical licensure.” This is why confidentiality for physicians seeking support is critical.
Supporters of Maintaining Confidentiality
American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
Citizens for Patient Safety
Colorado Academy of Physician Assistants
Colorado Hospital Association
Colorado Medical Society
Colorado Permanente Medical Group
Colorado Psychiatric Society
Northern Colorado Hospitalists
Primary Care Partners
Red Rocks Community College Physician Assistant Program
Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine
University of Colorado School of Medicine Graduate Medical Education
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus School of Medicine
Want to be added as a supporter? Email us!
Q & A
Peer assistance programs provide life-saving support to physicians, who as part of their state licensing fee, receive the benefit of receiving wellness care when they need it.
- If a doctor’s actions or well-being impacts personal and patient safety, they will be referred to the Colorado Medical Board for action.
- The peer assistance program which has been in place for decades has a voluntary self-referral track, which allows for confidentiality for physicians who are safe to practice so long as they remain compliant with the program’s monitoring and treatment plans.
- The program’s voluntary track, developed over decades with Colorado Medical Board awareness and involvement, results in licensees seeking evaluation and getting the assistance they need while ensuring confidentiality.
Physicians benefit from the confidentiality guarantees as they are more likely to seek care if they know it will not adversely impact their license as long as they remain compliant.
- Without confidentiality guarantees in place, it has been proven that doctors are less willing to seek help.
- A confidential peer assistance program is for doctors who need preventative support, so they can get help before it becomes a larger problem.
Patients benefit from increased safety and better care by allowing physicians to confidentially seek care before an issue impacts patient safety.
- Voluntary participation promotes patient safety and physician well-being.
Across the health care spectrum, health care providers and organizations understand that having an accessible peer assistance program will result in better patient safety and better outcomes.
Colorado’s long-standing support program is recognized as a proven benchmark in how these programs should be structured to provide confidential and effective care for physicians that addresses their well-being and contributes to improved health care.
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