Physician health programs in most states are designed to help doctors with substance-use and other problems get the care they need and, when appropriate, return to work while protecting patient safety. But two Harvard doctors who have been involved with the Massachusetts program say there is too little oversight of operations in programs across the country and no clear standards.
Doctors who are referred to such programs have no choice but to participate in evaluation and treatment in order to preserve their careers, so the programs are “coercive,” Drs. J. Wesley Boyd and John R. Knight, both of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a review published this month in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. While the programs are highly successful, helping a large majority of doctors they serve to become abstinent and return to work, they also have the potential for abuse, they wrote.