Physician health programs: ‘Diagnosing for dollars’?

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Source:  Clinical Psychiatry News

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As medicine struggles with rising rates of physician burnout, dissatisfaction, depression, and suicide, one solution comes in the form of Physician Health Programs, or PHPs. These organizations were originally started by volunteer physicians, often doctors in recovery, and funded by medical societies, as a way of providing help while maintaining confidentiality. Now, they are run by independent corporations, by medical societies in some states, and sometimes by hospitals or health systems. The services they offer vary by PHP, and they may have relationships with state licensing boards. While they can provide a gateway to help for a troubled doctor, there has also been concern about the services that are being provided.

stethoscope with lots of money

Physicians find their way to PHPs in a number of ways. A doctor whose behavior suggests impairment can be referred to the PHP by his employer, or by a licensing board, following a complaint. In these instances, participation often is a condition of employment or of continued licensure, and the PHP serves as an agent of the hospital or the state. Doctors may also be referred to PHPs for monitoring if they ascribed to having a diagnosis of psychiatric illness or substance abuse, either now or in the past, and are with or without obvious impairment. Finally, PHPs serve as a portal to treatment for physicians who self-identify and self-refer in an effort to get help. Their use is encouraged in an effort to prevent bad outcomes from mental health conditions, stress, and substance abuse, in those who are suffering in ways that would not otherwise call attention to their plights. In these situations, the PHP may serve as the agent of the patient or client, but there may remain dual-agency issues if the physician says something that leads the PHP to be concerned about the doctor’s fitness. Compliance with PHP recommendations, including drug screening, might be mandated, and physicians may resent these requirements.Louise Andrew, MD, JD, served as the liaison from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) to the the Federation of State Medical Boards from 2006 to 2014. In an online forum called Collective Wisdom, Andrew talked about the benefits of Physician Health Programs as entities that are helpful to stuggling doctors and urged her colleagues to use them as a safe alternative to suffering in silence.

More recently, Dr. Andrew has become concerned that PHPs may have taken on the role of what is more akin to “diagnosing for dollars.” In her May, 2016 column in Emergency Physician’s Monthly, Andrew noted, “A decade later, and my convictions have changed dramatically. Horror stories that colleagues related to me while I chaired ACEP’s Personal and Professional WellBeing Committee cannot all be isolated events. For example, physicians who self-referred to the PHP for management of stress and depression were reportedly railroaded into incredibly expensive and inconvenient out-of-state drug and alcohol treatment programs, even when there was no coexisting drug or alcohol problem.”

Dr. Andrew is not the only one voicing concerns about PHPs. In “Physician Health Programs: More harm than good?” (Medscape, Aug. 19, 2015), Pauline Anderson wrote about a several problems that have surfaced. In North Carolina, the state audited the PHPs after complaints that they were mandating physicians to lengthy and expensive inpatient programs. The complaints asserted that the physicians had no recourse and were not able to see their records. “The state auditor’s report found no abuse by North Carolina’s PHP. However, there was a caveat – the report determined that abuse could occur and potentially go undetected.

“It also found that the North Carolina PHP created the appearance of conflicts of interest by allowing the centers to provide both patient evaluation and treatments and that procedures did not ensure that physicians receive quality evaluations and treatment because the PHP had no documented criteria for selecting treatment centers and did not adequately monitor them.”

Finally, in a Florida Fox4News story, “Are FL doctors and nurses being sent to rehab unnecessarily? Accusations: Overdiagnosing; overcharging” (Nov. 16, 2017), reporters Katie Lagrone and Matthew Apthorp wrote about financial incentives for evaluators to refer doctors to inpatient substance abuse facilities.

Dr. Dinah Miller is coauthor with Annette Hanson, MD, of “Committed: The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016)

Dr. Dinah Miller

“Medical professionals who enter the programs must pay for all treatment out-of-pocket, which could add up to thousands of dollars each year. There are also no standards on how much treatment can cost.”The American Psychiatric Association has made it a priority to address physician burnout and mental health. Richard F. Summers, MD, APA Trustee-at-Large noted: “State PHPs are an essential resource for physicians, but there is a tremendous diversity in quality and approach. It is critical that these programs include attention to mental health problems as well as addiction, and that they support individual physicians’ treatment and journey toward well-being. They need to be accessible, private, and high quality, and they should be staffed by excellent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.”

PHPs provide a much-needed and wanted service. But if the goal is to provide mental health and substance abuse services to physicians who are struggling – to prevent physicians from burning out, leaving medicine, and dying of suicide – then any whiff of corruption and any fear of professional repercussions become a reason not to use these services. If they are to be helpful, physicians must feel safe using them.

Dr. Miller is coauthor with Annette Hanson, MD, of “Committed: The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

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Report: Shortage of 90,000 Doctors by 2025

Originally posted on Hoosier Econ:

tireddoctor

In a report prepared for the Association of American Medical Colleges a grim outlook was given concerning physician supply in the United States. Here is what was found:

Demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply, leading to a projected shortfall of between 46,100 and 90,400 physicians by 2025.  The report can be read here. Much of the shortage will be from stronger demand of people getting on Obamacare.

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Physician Suicide, Organizational Justice and the “Cry of pain” Model: Hopelessness, Helplessness and Defeat

tireddoctorAccording to Talbott, “impaired doctors must first acknowledge their addiction and overcome their ‘terminal uniqueness’ before they can deal with a drug or alcohol problem.” “Terminal uniqueness “ is a phrase Talbott uses to describe doctors’ tendency to think they can heal themselves. “M-Deity” refers to doctors “being trained to think they’re God,” an unfounded generalization considering the vast diversity of individuals that make up our profession. This attitude, according to some critics, stems from the personal histories of the treatment staff, including Talbott, who are recovering alcoholics and addicts themselves. One such critic was Assistant Surgeon General under C. Everett Koop John C. Duffy who said that Ridgeview suffered from a “boot-camp mentality” toward physicians under their care and “assume every physician suffering from substance abuse is the same lying, stealing, cheating, manipulating individual they were when they had the illness. Certainly some physicians are manipulative, but it’s naïve to label all physicians with these problems.”

Disrupted Physician

They can be a terror to your mind and show you how to hold your tongue
They got mystery written all over their forehead
They kill babies in the crib and say only the good die young
They don’t believe in mercy
Judgement on them is something that you’ll never see
They can exalt you up or bring you down main route
Turn you into anything that they want you to be–Bob Dylan, Foot of Pride


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Although no reliable statistics yet exist, anecdotal reports suggest a marked rise in physician suicide in recent years. From the reports I am receiving it is a lot more than the oft cited “medical school class” of 400 per year.

This necessitates an evaluation of predisposing risk factors such as substance abuse and depression, but also requires a critical examination of what external forces may be involved in the descent from suicidal ideation to suicidal…

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Policy and Regulatory Decision Making in the Medical Profession: A Framework to Identify the influence of Special Interest Groups and “Bent” Science

content-1 In  Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research 1  Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner describe how special interest groups scheme to advance their own economic or ideological goals by using distorted or “bent” science to influence legal, regulatory and public health policy.

The authors describe a “separatist view” of science and policy that assumes scientific research is sufficiently reliable for public policy deliberations and legal proceedings when it reaches them.  This is illustrated as a pipeline in which it is presumed  the scientific community has properly vetted the information flow through rigorous peer-review and professional oversight.  The final product that exits the pipeline is understood to be unbiased and produced in accordance with the professional norms and procedures of science.   The reliability, integrity and validity of the final product is indubitably accepted.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.49.27 AMThe separatist  view does not consider the possibility that the scientific work exiting the pipeline could be intentionally shaped and contaminated by biasing influences as it flows through the pipeline.  When this occurs the final product exiting the pipeline is distorted or “bent” and bent science can result in bad decision making and bad policy.

Bent science starts with a pre-determined outcome and works backward from a desired result. It is not true science. Those orchestrating the deception (“benders”) use a variety of tactics and strategies to shape, package and spin science to support their own hidden agenda and suppress opposing science.

Benders attempt to hide, dismiss and debunk contrarian research and unsupportive science.  Benders will attack and harass the science and scientists that pose a threat to their interests. Using carefully crafted studies designed to confirm a desired outcome, the pre-determined conclusions are subsequently promoted and publicized to the relevant stakeholders who are often unable ( or sometimes unwilling) to discern real science from junk-science.

Misinformation, propaganda, and deception are disseminated in a variety of venues. Public relations firms are used to manipulate public perception and freelance writers are hired  brandish favorable consensus statements.  Authoritative reviews and critiques are ghostwritten under the names of  “outside experts” who profit both monetarily and by adding a high-profile publication to their resume.

Opinion is paraded as fact and with a dearth of professional oversight the charade usually goes unnoticed and unopposed.

Data-dredging, cherry picking, confirmatory bias, confirmatory distortion, fabrication, falsification, exaggeration, and a whole host of deceptive tactics are used to work backward from an already determined result.

Any information that contradicts the answer is manipulated, undermined, suppressed or downplayed; even if it is the result of real science and evidence-based research; even if it is the truth.  Professional procedure, protocol and ethics are off the table.  It is an underhanded free-for-all. Bare knuckle boxing. Trash your opponents work and label it junk-science. Undermine the integrity of your opponents.  Use ad hominem attacks to question the opponents motives. Claim the scientists are hacks on the take.  Start rumors about them. Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.50.32 AM Loudly claim you are the one who is evidence based. Proclaim professionalism and authority.  Quibble. Move the goalpost.   Nit-pick and split hairs.  Proclaim over and over and over again you are the one who is evidence based.

And the problem is it usually works.  It is an unfair playing field.  When no meaningful barriers are in place to detect cheating and identify cheaters they usually win.

Bending science can have serious and sometimes horrific consequences and multiple examples including the Tobacco and pharmaceutical industry are given in the book.

Calling for immediate action  to reduce the role that bent science plays in regulatory and judicial decision making, the authors emphasize the assistance of the scientific community is necessary in designing and implementing reform.

“Shedding even a little light on how advocates bend policy -relevant science could go a long way toward remedying these problems.  Indeed, precisely because the advocates have overtaken the law in this area, heightened attention to the social costs of bending science could itself precipitate significant change.”

But there are difficulties in challenging bent science including a general lack of recognition of the problem. With an absence of counter-studies to oppose deliberately manufactured ends-oriented research this would be expected.

Bent science involves the deliberate manufacturing of a pool of  information designed to promote a specific agenda.  A level playing field would require a pool of opposing research specifically addressing that agenda.  In reality this requires both the incentive and the power to do so–an unlikely scenario short of an equally well funded competitor or sufficient public concern about the problem.

In fact counter-forces are often nonexistent. Investigatory techniques developed and promoted by the FBI crime lab (such as firearms identification and intoxication testing) is one example described in the book.  These techniques evolved with little meaningful oversight from the larger scientific community and could be badly bent but there is no meaningful pool of information to disprove them.  The authors aptly state that   “defendants in most criminal cases lack resources to mount effective challenges, much less undertake their own counter-research.”

And part of the “art” of bending involves swaying public opinion and the mainstream media is typically aligned with the benders so opposing viewpoints seldom make the headlines.

Additionally, there is no meaningful oversight or avenue to pursue accountability. No systems exist to prevent, catch and publicly expose bent-science or those who bend science.

The influence of special interest groups on the practice of medicine is unknown.  No one has examined the role of bent science in the rules, regulations, policies and decisions made by those who are in charge of the standards of medical practice and professional behavior of doctors but as a regulated profession governed by the  decisions and policies of regulators it is certainly possible.

Regulation of the Medical Profession

Alexis de Toqueville once observed that a key feature of American government was the decentralized character of administration. “Written laws exist in America,” he wrote, “and one sees the daily execution of them; but although everything moves regularly, the mover can nowhere be discovered. The hand which directs the social machine is invisible.”2

Administrative law is the body of law that allows for the creation of public regulatory agencies and contains all of the statutes, judicial decisions and regulations that govern them. Administrative agencies implement their powers in the form of rules, regulations, orders and decisions.   State medical boards are the regulatory agencies responsible for the licensure and discipline of physicians. They grant the right to practice medicine in the form of a medical license and each state has Medical Practice Act that governs and defines the practice of medicine. The medical board is empowered to take action against a doctor for substandard care, unprofessional behavior and other violations as defined by the state Medical Practice Act.

Administrative Code governs the licensure and disciplinary process and the State Administrative Procedure Act governs the legal process (due process, discovery, etc.). Regulatory changes are enacted through procedural, interpretive and legislative rules.

Both medical practice acts and administrative procedure acts are subject to change.  Changes in medical practice acts can redefine what is acceptable practice and what constitutes professional behavior. This can increase the power and control these agencies have over doctors both professionally and socially.

Changes in Administrative practice acts can decrease what rights a doctor has if this power and control is abused.  Changes in the wording of administrative code and administrative practice acts can have profound implications in these rights including due-process, timeliness of being heard, rights to appeal decisions and time-constraints for judicial review.

And when these changes occur they do so silently.  The hand that directs the machine is indeed invisible.  The consequences, however, are not.  These changes not only impact those touched by the hand but can have a systemic impact on the entire profession.

State medical practice acts as well as administrative practice acts and code are susceptible to change and therefore susceptible to the influence of special interest groups benefitting from such change.  Regulation of the medical profession is thus susceptible to bent science.

Bent Science and the Medical Profession

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The impact of bent science on the regulation of the medical profession has not been studied. As a profession governed by regulatory agencies medicine is certainly not immune to the influence of special interest groups who could in turn influence public policy and regulatory decisions, rules and regulations to benefit their own interests.

Making sound decisions about regulation calls for an understanding of the problem it is intended to solve. This demands methodologically sound science and evidence-based facts arrived at through rigorous peer review and professional oversight. The science on which policy decisions are made must be reliable and unbiased. Legitimate policy must be based on recognized and legitimate institutions and experts.

If the information regulatory agencies rely on to discipline doctors and protect the public is unreliable then serious consequences can occur.

It would be beneficial to look for changes in public policy, guidelines, rules and regulations involving the medical profession and examine the reasons behind them. When did the problem present? Who presented it? Was it based on methodologically sound and accurate data?  What organizations do the problem presenters represent?  What organizations or individuals aligned or associated with the presenters might benefit?  What are the consequences?  Who is harmed?

Howard Becker describes the role of “moral entrepreneurs,” who crusade for making and enforcing rules that benefit their own interests by bringing them to the attention of the public and those in positions of power and authority under the guise of righting a society evil.8   

The mechanics and mentality is similar to the science benders and, as discussed below,  they use some of the same techniques.

Moral entrepreneurs take the lead in labeling a particular behavior deviant and spreading this label throughout society.  They associate the behavior of some group with a society evil, affix an easily recognizable label to it and then express the conviction that the evil must be combated.  Labeled as being outside the central core values of consensual society, the deviants in the designated group are perceived as posing a threat to both the values of society and society itself.

Activities can rise to the level of ‘social problems” when harm or danger is attributed to those activities and governmental powers are called upon to put an end to those harms. Bent science requires convincing others of a viewpoint and the likelihood of this occurring increases when the activity that is identified as a problem resonates with underlying societal concerns and anxieties.  The problem is then endorsed by experts who give legitimacy to such claims.3,4 This legitimacy results attracts media attention which further enforces support from both the public and policy makers.5,6  

As a result any bent science directed at regulatory and public policy decision making should be clearly visible.

The sociologist Stanley Cohen used the term ”moral panic” to characterize the amplification of deviance by the media, the public, and agents of social control.7 According to cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the media obtain their information from the primary definers of social reality in authoritative positions and amplify the perceived threat to the existing social order. The authorities then act to eliminate the threat.9 The dominant ideas or ideologies are reproduced by relying on the opinions of the defining authority and then spread through the media.

An internet search of what labels have been affixed to doctors in association with a threat to society there are three.  A google search of “impaired physician” yields 20, 600 results; “disruptive physician” yields 17, 400 results; and “aging physician” yields 27, 800 results. A large number of these articles, opinion pieces and reviews associate impaired, disruptive and aging physicians with patient death and other adverse events, medical error, and malpractice.   The labels affixed to these physicians have been characterized as a major threat to public health and the rhetorical tools used in many of these articles seems aimed at increasing public anxiety.

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A PubMed search yields 154 results for the “impaired physician”; 47 results for the “disruptive physician”; and 19 results for the “aging physician.”  Many of these are opinion pieces written by the same group of physicians and aimed at hospital administrators, regulators and those involved in the legal or business aspects of medicine.

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There is, in fact, no evidence based research that associates the impaired, disruptive or aging physician with any adverse events. The “impaired,” “disruptive” and “aging” physician labels  as evinced by a quick google search seem escalated far beyond the level warranted by the existing evidence.

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The “impaired” and “disruptive” labels have taken on the status of moral panic and the “aging” label, which is being associated with cognitive impairment, seems to be heading in that direction. The number of articles being published and lectures being given on the dangers of cognitively impaired doctors is increasing.  It has not yet reached the level of public awareness the impaired and disruptive have.

To acknowledge that the current level of concern about these labels is exaggerated is not to suggest they do not exist. They do.  But the disparity between the evidence-base, or lack thereof, and the level of concern warrants further investigation.

To be clear,  doctors who are impaired by drug and alcohol abuse need to be removed from practice to protect the public and receive treatment;  doctors who are abusive to others or engage in behavior that threatens patient care need to be held accountable for their actions; and doctors who are cognitively impaired due to dementia need to be removed from practice and evaluated by the proper specialists.  If a diagnosis of dementia is confirmed then they need to be removed from practice.

What is the motivation behind the “impaired,” “disruptive” and “aging” physician labels and the multiple articles linking these labels to patient harm and medical error?  There is no data driven evidence so where does it come from?   Could moral entrepreneurs be behind it?  If so then there should be evidence  of bent science and to examine this we must look for evidence that these labels have been used to influence regulatory decisions, rules, regulations and policy.

And with the recently archived Journal of Medical Regulation this task can be easily accomplished.

The Journal of Medical Regulation as Timeline and Framework for Policy Evaluation

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is a national not-for profit organization that gives guidance to state medical boards through public policy development and recommendations on issues pertinent to medical regulation. Shortly after its founding in 1912, the Federation of State Medical Boards began publishing a quarterly journal addressing issues relating to medical licensing and regulation of doctors. First published in 1913 as the Quarterly of the Federation of State Boards of the United States, the publication has undergone several name changes and publication schedules. From1921 to 1999 it was published monthly as the Federation Bulletin. In 1999 it was changed to the quarterly Journal of Medical Licensure and Discipline and in 2010 was revised to the Journal of Medical Regulation The Journal of Medical Regulation is in the process of archiving all issues dating back to 1913.

Presently every paper dating back to 1967 is available online and the archival organization and availability of full articles published sequentially over the past half-century is historically invaluable.   As the official journal of the national organization involved in the medical licensing and regulation of doctors, this archival organization allows for an unskewed and impartial examination in both historical and cultural context. We can identify when particular issues and problems were presented, who presented them and how.

The Journal of Medical Regulation archives provides a structured context to examine these issues in their historical and cultural context.  This facilitates a retrospective analysis.  As a timeline it allows identification of when the issues were presented.  It also allows us to look at the events preceding the problem, who benefited from them, and the consequences. Could these factors be involved in influencing the regulation of medicine and shaping the medical profession? Could bent science have been involved in regulatory and administrative changes that have significantly impacted the rights and well-being of doctors and how the profession of medicine is defined?  Could some of the current problems such as the marked increase in physician suicide, sham-peer review, and physician burnout be the result of bent science?  If bent science is contributing to bad policy and bad decision making then it need to be exposed and addressed.  Bent science is bad medicine and if it exists then we need to urgently shine a light on it.

  1. McGarity TO, Wagner WE. Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2008.
  2. de Toqueville A. Democracy in America. New York: Penguin Books; 1984.
  3. Blumer H. Social Problems as Collective Behavior. Social Problems. 1971;18:298-306.
  4. Stone DA. Causal Stories and the formation of policy agendas. Political Science Quarterly. 1989;104:280-300.
  5. Best J. Threatened Children, Rhetoric and Concern about Child Victims. Chicago University of Chicago Press; 1990.
  1. Gerbner G, Gross L. The scarey World of TV’s heavy viewer. Psychology Today. 1976;9(89):41-45.
  2. Cohen S. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (New Edition). Oxford, U.K.: Martin Robertson; 1980.
  3. Becker H. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press; 1963.
  4. Hall SC, Critcher C, Jefferson T, Clark J, Roberts B. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Macmillan; 1978.

 

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Disrupted Physician 101.4–The “Impaired Physician Movement” takeover of State Physician Health Programs

Forget what you see
Some things they just change invisibly–Elliott Smith

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Physician Impairment

The Sick Physician: Impairment by Psychiatric Disorders, Including Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, published by the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Mental Health in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1973,1 recommended that physicians do a better job of helping colleagues impaired by mental illness, alcoholism or drug dependence. The AMA defined an “impaired physician” as “a physician who is unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients because of mental illness or excessive use or abuse of drugs, including alcohol.”

Recognition of physician impairment in the 1970s by both the medical community and the general public led to the development of “impaired physician” programs with the purpose of both helping impaired doctors and protecting the public from them.

IMG_1010The 1975 media coverage of the deaths of Drs. Stewart and Cyril Marcus brought the problem of impaired physicians into the public eye. IMG_0940Leading experts in the field of Infertility Medicine, the twin gynecologists were found dead in their Upper East Side apartment from drug withdrawal that New York Hospital was aware of but did nothing about. Performing surgery with trembling hands and barely able to stand, an investigation revealed that nothing had been done to help the Marcus brothers with their addiction or protect patients. They were 45 –years old.

Top: Twin Gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus Bottom: The Movie

Top: Twin Gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus
Bottom: The Movie “Dead Ringers” starring Jeremy Irons based on the Marcus twins

Although the New York State Medical Society had set up its own voluntary program for impaired physicians three years earlier, the Marcus case prompted the state legislature to pass a law that doctors had to report any colleague suspected of misconduct to the state medical board and those who didn’t would face misconduct charges themselves.


Physician Health Programs

Physician health programs (PHPs)  existed in almost every state by 1980. Often staffed by volunteer physicians and funded by State Medical Societies, these programs served the dual purpose of helping sick colleagues and protecting the public. Preferring rehabilitation to probation or license revocation so long as the public was protected from imminent danger, most medical boards accepted the concept with support and referral.

As an alternative to discipline the introduction of PHPs created a perception of medical boards as “enforcers” whose job was to sanction and discipline whereas PHPs were perceived as “rehabilitators” whose job was to help sick physicians recover. One of many false dichotomies this group uses and it is perhaps this perceived benevolence that created an absence of the need to guard.


Employee Assistance Programs for Doctors

Physician Health Programs (PHPs) are the equivalent of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for other occupations. PHPs meet with, assess, and monitor doctors who have been referred to them for substance use or other mental or behavioral health problems.

Most EAPs, however, were developed with the collaboration of workers unions or some other group supporting the rights and best interests of the employees. PHPs were created and evolved without any oversight or regulation.

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The American Society of Addiction Medicine can trace its roots to the 1954 founding of theNew York City Medical Society on Alcoholism (NYCMSA) by Ruth Fox, M.D whose husband died from alcoholism.

The society, numbering about 100 members, established itself as a national organization in1967, the American Medical Society on Alcoholism (AMSA).

By 1970 membership was nearly 500.

In 1973 AMSA became a component of the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA) in a medical advisory capacity until 1983.

But by the mid 1980’s ASAM’s membership became so large that they no longer needed to remain under the NCADD umbrella.

In 1985 ASAM’s first certification exam was announced. According to Dr. Bean-Bayog, chair of the Credentialing Committee, “a lot of people in the alcoholism field have long wanted physicians in the field to have a high level of skills and scientific credibility and for this body of knowledge to be accredited.”2 And in 1986 662 physicians took the first ASAM Certification Exam.

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By 1988 membership was over 2,800 with 1,275 of these physicians “certified” as “having demonstrated knowledge and expertise in alcoholism and other drug dependencies commensurate with the standards set forth by the society.”3 “The formation of State Chapters began with California, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland submitting requests.4

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In 1988 the AMA House of Delegates voted to admit ASAM to the House. According to ASAM News this “legitimizes the society within the halls of organized medicine.”2

By 1993 ASAM had a membership of 3,500 with a total of 2,619IMG_8919certifications in Addiction Medicine. The Membership Campaign Task Force sets a goal to double its membership of 3,500 to 7,000 by the year 2000 to assure “the future of treatment for patients with chemicals. It represents a blueprint for establishing addiction medicine as a viable entity.”5

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Many of these physicians joined state PHPs and over time have taken over under the umbrella of the FSPHP.

Others became medical directors of treatment centers such as Hazelden, Marworth and Talbott.


  1. The sick physician. Impairment by psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism and drug dependence. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. Feb 5 1973;223(6):684-687.
  2. Four Decades of ASAM. ASAM News. March-April 1994, 1994.
  3. . American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies Newsletter. Vol III. New York, NY: AMSAODD; 1988:12.
  4. . AMSAODD News. Vol III. New York, NY: American Medical Society on Alcoholism & Other Drug Dependencies; 1988.
  5. Membership Campaign Update. ASAM News. Vol VIII: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 1993:11.

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johnnyLawrence

The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship, Moral Panics, and Social Control

The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship, Moral Panics, and Social Control.

 “Few, no matter how desperate, seek help of their own accord.”  says Dr. Marv Seppala, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Hazelden, one of the “PHP-approved” drug and alcohol assessment and treatment centers located in Center City, Minnesota.  “Physicians are intelligent and skilled at hiding their addictions.”

“They’re often described as the best workers in the hospital,” he says. “They’ll overwork to compensate for other ways in which they may be falling short, and to protect their supply. They’ll sign up for extra call and show up for rounds they don’t have to do.”

In reality this is ludicrous–knee slapping absurd.   If the results of this authoritative opinion were not so dire these statements would, in fact, be comical.   Such is not the case, however, and opinions like Seppala’s have been taken at face value and, as a result, the aftermath has been and continues to be tragedy.IMG_0706

Addiction, alcoholism and substance abuse to any significant degree produce both physiological and behavioral manifestations in the user. It is cause and effect.  Pathophysiology conforms to law of nature and not the whims of the impaired physician movement.

What anomalous  aspect of intelligence or special skill set would enable a doctor to hide an addiction?

The ASAM definition of addiction is characterized by cognitive, behavioral and emotional changes which include “impaired control” so how would intelligence rein it in?  Furthermore, what unique logical, rational, analytical, factual, abstract, intuitive or objective aspect of intelligence is responsible for this preternatural fortitude?

How is the intelligence of a doctor any different from the intelligence of any other human being?  And what prodigious abilities do doctors have that enable them them to cloak the  behavioral manifestations and stave off the physical consequences chemical addiction to such a degree that they are able to maintain the facade of being  “described as the best workers in the hospital?”  Is it an innate inborn endowment or an esoteric knack acquired during medical training?

IMG_0728What ability and artistry would allow a profession to weave such a web of fortitude that they can convincingly shroud the myriad signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse unlike the regular folk?    Perhaps access to ophthalmic vasoconstrictors and beta blockers to temper the pupillary dilation and tremulousness associated with stimulants or botox and a testosterone patch to mask the skin changes and maintain lean muscle mass in the throes of alcoholism?

How does overworking “protect their supply” and why would they keep it at the hospital?  These people have prescription pads and last I checked there were no cocktails shakers or bottles of Jameson in the doctors lounge.

And for the life of me I cannot comprehend why an alcoholic or addict doctor would sign up for extra call and show up for rounds on his day off.  What would be the point?

In reality a doctor with a drug or alcohol problem would be erratic with call and show up late for rounds.

This is just another example of authoritative opinion with no substantive value. It is moral entrepreneurship at its finest; the fallacy of appeal to authority and secret knowledge.

If Seppala were asked to provide the evidence-base and rationality of these statements he would be hard pressed to do so.  The question would be met with deflection, logical fallacy, references to the opinions of like minds and thought-stopping memes.  “You need a check-up from the neck up,”  your best thinking got you here,”  there is no “I” in “team,” “denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”  Oh, yeah?   well “Rogue” isn’t just a river in Oregon and, while we are at it, “Boring” isn’t just a town!

It is this type of misinformation and propaganda that allows the “impaired physician movement” to  drag away the “best worker in the hospital” and deem him “in denial.”

“We were so surprised. We didn’t even know he had a problem”  say the nurses, patients and colleagues left behind.

Well the truth is he probably didn’t!

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Blind-faith and unquestioning allegiance to expert authority deflects scrutiny and analysis.  Few red flags are raised as this type of moral preening promotes misguided plausibility and complacency in the belief that these are indeed experts with good intentions. This needs to be addressed.

But if you look at any of the current “moral panics” that are being used to suggest random suspicion-less drug testing of doctors or promoting the Physician Health Programs as successful and replicable models, you will inevitably find a doctor on this list behind it. It is a given.

And the invitation goes out to Seppala to debate this in a public forum on a level playing field.    Not gonna happen because it would be impossible for him to address and answer the questions rationally,  directly and with any tiny scrap of evidence based data.

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Disrupted Physician 101.1: The “Impaired Physician Movement” and the History of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

Disrupted Physician 101.1: The “Impaired Physician Movement” and the History of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

Henry David Thoreau

“With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around the shoulder of medicine, we might change the world.”—Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, AA World Services, Inc (1953).

In 1985 the British sociologist G. V. Stimson wrote:

“The impaired physician movement is characterized by a number of evangelical recovered alcoholic and addict physicians, whose recovery has been accompanied by an involvement in medical society and treatment programs. Their ability to make authoritative pronouncements on physician impairment is based on their own claim to insider’s knowledge.”

The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s mission is to “establish addiction medicine as a specialty recognized by professional organizations, governments, physicians, purchasers, and consumers of health care products, and the general public.”  

In this they have succeeded.images-4

And in the year 2014 Stimson’s characterization of the “impaired physician movement” remains as accurate and apt as it was in 1985. But the “number of evangelical recovered alcoholic and addict physicians” has increased dramatically  (outnumbering Addiction Psychiatry by 4:1)  and their involvement in  medical society and treatment programs” has been realized and enforced through the state Physician Health Programs and their “PHP-approved’ assessment and treatment centers.

Their “ability to make authoritative pronouncements on physician impairment…based on their own claim to insider’s knowledge”  has become public policy and sanctified by Regulatory Medicine -essentially the Word of the Lord.

And the 1953 Alcoholics Anonymous prophecy that “With one arm around the shoulder of religion and the other around the shoulder of medicine, we might change the world” is also coming to pass.

But the world is not changing for the better as that arm around the shoulder of religion has its fingers deep in the pockets of the multi-billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and assessment and treatment industries.  And the arm around the shoulder of medicine has its fingers clamped tightly around its throat; a stranglehold in full throttle suffocating the Profession of Medicine with no meaningful opposition I can see.