If California lawmakers plan to move forward with creating a state-sponsored "diversion program" for treating substance-abusing doctors, it should not be a secret country club for addicted doctors who want to hide from the consequences.
While the details haven't been fleshed out, SB 1177, by Senator Cathleen Galgiani, would authorize the Medical Board to establish a "Physician and Surgeon Health and Wellness Program" for the early identification and appropriate interventions to support physicians in any rehabilitation from substance abuse, physical or mental illness, burnout, or other similar conditions.
Galgiani should make sure that any state-run program views patient safety as more important than physician confidentiality and that doctors lose their license if they are terminated from the program. Unfortunately, the California Medical Association (CMA), which is involved in the legislation, is likely to be the biggest obstacle in protecting patients. The association has pushed for the program to allow physicians caught abusing drugs and alcohol to choose a secret rehab program in order to avoid discipline.
At the Board's October meeting, Consumer Watchdog testified that if the legislation does move forward, patient safety should be paramont, and doctors who fail out of the system should lose their license. If complaints of possible substance abuse are reported, they must be made a priority and any enforcement should be handled expeditiously. Most importantly, any program should not in anyway be connected to the CMA or anyone connected to the previous diversion program. Allowing the CMA or their allies to be associated with any program would shred the credibility of the plan from the beginning.