Physician health programs (PHPs) are frequently lauded as models that produce superior outcomes. The strategy includes closely monitored, long-term treatment and support for physicians who are facing not only the consequences of addiction but also the potential loss of their careers. The country’s state-based PHPs act as confidential advocates for the physicians, connecting them to treatment and managing their recovery and eventual return to the practice of medicine.
It can be difficult for today’s PHPs to find behavioral health providers offering just the right care, however. Experts speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Tuesday noted that treatment must be specifically designed for an impaired physician’s unique needs.
“The disease of addiction is typically advanced in healthcare professionals when it gets detected, and the ability to have a cohort of your peers and a support system of other providers on an outpatient basis isn’t very high,” said P. Bradley Hall, MD, FASAM, president of the Federation of State Physician Health Programs and executive medical director of the West Virginia Medical Professionals Health Program. “That unique setting is hard to find.”
The need is especially great in West Virginia, where there aren’t any available programs that can manage the nuances of addiction treatment for impaired professionals with comorbid conditions, Hall said. In fact, the West Virginia PHP has seen a dramatic rise in the numbers of program participants—from three physicians in 2007 to 213 in 2017. The numbers are on-pace to be even higher this year.
While physicians facing addiction might be placed anywhere along the continuum, the majority end up in 30 to 90 days of residential treatment, he said. It’s also important to note that if physicians are not in treatment with their peers, they don’t engage as well in the care process, Hall said.
Research has shown an estimated 30% of physicians will develop an addiction disorder during their careers.