1 in 3 Doctors Wont Report Incompetent Colleagues
It is almost impossible to believe that a doctor would allow another doctor to work with patients that might be incompetent, but a large survey of American doctors has found that more than one-third would allow it.
Catherine M. DesRoches, assistant professor at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston stated "self-regulation is our best alternative, but these findings suggest that we really need to strengthen that. We don't have a good alternative system."
To evaluate how the current system of self-regulation is working, researchers surveyed almost 1,900 doctors ranging from anesthesiologists, cardiologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, family medicine, general surgery and internal medicine doctors.
These doctors were asked if, within the past three years, they had had "direct, personal knowledge of a physician who was impaired or incompetent to practice medicine" and if they had reported that colleague.
Research showed that only two-thirds of doctors actually reported the problem of an incompetent colleague. This seems interesting considering the fact that 64 percent of all respondents agreed that physicians should report impaired colleagues. Almost 70 percent of physicians felt they were "prepared" to report such a problem, the study authors noted.
"The most common reason [for not reporting] was that they thought someone else was taking care of the problem," DesRoches said. Other reasons did not report a colleague they thought was incompetent or compromised was they believed that no action would result from the report, as well as fear of retribution, especially among small-town doctors and those in smaller practices.
The authors of the study said that "peer monitoring and reporting are the prime mechanisms for identifying physicians whose knowledge, skills, or attitudes are compromised."
"The hope that doctors will turn each other in for poor quality care is just one of the ways that we track quality," said Dr. Matthew K. Wynia, director of the AMA's Institute for Ethics, who implied that he wasn't defending the doctors who haven't reported impaired colleagues. "Professionalism doesn't work perfectly but this isn't the only way in which we track poor quality. We've got a lot of other things we're doing these days."