Interesting report on MSNBC today about doctors in rehab in California who are allowed to obtain confidential drug and alcohol treatment while continuing to provide patient care. Here’s the link: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22314486/
Oregon has a similar program of confidential drug and alcohol treatment for physicians. Here is the url for the Board of Medical Examiners summary of the program: oregon.gov/BME/healthprog.shtml. The statutes codifying the Oregon program are ORS 677.615-677.677.
The MSNBC article notes that many drug and alcohol treatment professionals and the American Medical Association support these types of programs. According to the AMA, allowing an impaired physician to continue treating patients encourages impaired doctors to seek treatment. Of course, the article also notes that California is ending its program because a review revealed that the confidential program failed to protect patients. And it also failed to encourage doctors to receive treatment.
The California experience provides hard data that undermines the AMA’s position. My perspective is surely colored by representing patients, but even so, there is something horrifying about a patient not knowing about a doctor’s impairment.
If you have any doubt about this in the abstract, consider a fairly simple hypothetical question. Would you want a surgeon who is addicted to drugs performing surgery on your child? If the answer is, “Of course not,” then it’s easy to see the problem with letting impaired doctors continue treating patients.
The AMA should be advocating for quality of care, and the California experience makes clear that the current system delivers lower quality care. An impaired doctor can be dangerous to patients. If the impairment is kept confidential, the very least that should happen is that the doctor should take a leave so that patients have confidence in their physician. Alternatively–and it’s a radical alternative–remove the confidentiality so that patients can choose. I imagine the radical alternative would horrify the AMA and the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. I could see that reaction. But if you’re not going to give patients the information they need to protect themselves, then you surely should take the impaired physician out of circulation.
David F. Sugerman
Today, Judge Marilyn Litzenberger dismissed Providence patients’ privacy claims for harms and losses resulting from the theft of computerized patient records. The case affects 350,000 patients. The motion to dismiss had been under consideration for a year. For the curious, the case is Gibson v. Providence Health System-Oregon, State of Oregon, Multnomah County Circuit Court Case No. 0601-01059.
Judge Litzenberger ruled that Oregon law did not provide a claim for Oregon patients affected by the loss. Paul & Sugerman represents the Providence patients.
At an early conference Judge Litzenberger had indicated that she was inclined to grant the motion to dismiss. She issued the decision on November 7, 2007.
When Providence first announced the security breach, it told its patients that they should take steps to protect themselves. Many patients went out and purchased identity theft protection service. Several weeks after the patients filed the lawsuit, Providence announced that it would make identity theft protection available. It eventually extended the theft protection for a second year.
It is fair to say that those of us who represent patients disagree with the judge’s ruling. After all, when you go to the doctor you expect that your private health history and confidential identity information will be protected. This didn’t happen.
The legal team is studying the opinion and considering its options. But for the present, it is a sad day for patients’ rights.
David F. Sugerman