To give care to others, physicians shouldn’t be afraid to get help

November 10, 2017

Four out of 10 U.S. physicians reported they would be reluctant to seek formal medical care for treatment of a mental health condition for fear of repercussions to their licensure

Physicians are stressed out. 

Numerous studies indicate that doctors are finding increasing frustration in providing care, from more difficult interactions with patients to more time spent entering data into their electronic health record systems than treating illnesses.

 

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Earlier this year, the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic examined the specialties facing the greatest physician burnout, and internists, cardiologists and family docs were all among the top eight.

And a new study portrays an even  grimmer reality: Physicians are hesitant to seek help for fear of losing their license.

Published in October in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the study found that four out of 10 U.S. physicians reported they would be reluctant to seek formal medical care for treatment of a mental health condition for fear of repercussions to their licensure. In addition, docs practicing in states where questions regarding mental health treatment are featured in licensure and renewal applications were the least likely to seek help. 

 

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The study also finds that there is no concrete evidence-backed by the American Psychiatric Association-that a doctor who seeks mental health assistance is at greater risk of impairment or a potential risk to patients. Period. 

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But that fear was clearly present among the thousands of physicians in the study who said they would not just avoid disclosing counseling, but not even seek it out. That is troubling.

 

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Many professional medical conferences feature standing-room only sessions on physician wellness and improving work-life balance. These are people who just want a little help with the daily stress of working in healthcare.

The last thing doctors need is yet another hurdle in seeking professional and personal satisfaction. They should not have anxiety about disclosing assistance while they work tirelessly to improve the health of others who rely on them for guidance and hope.

I’d call on medical societies, beginning with the American Medical Association and down to each individual specialty group, to work with states to take questions about mental health treatment off licensing documents. Furthermore, I’d implore them to work with state medical boards to see how they can truly help doctors instead of further alienating them.

These are strange and scary times in healthcare. We need to reduce the legal and professional barriers that stand in the way of  physicians the help they need to remain our healers rather than continuing to drive them away from medicine. 

 

Keith L. Martin is editorial director for Medical Economics. Do you think states should ask physicians about past mental health counseling? Tell us at medec@ubm.com.