Ohio Medical Board approach to physicians with mental health issues may have a chilling effect on physicians seeking treatment

Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 4731.22(B)(19), the Medical Board in Ohio can suspend the license of a physician if it is determined that a physician has an “…inability to practice according to acceptable and prevailing standard of care by reason of mental illness . . .”.  This suggests that the Board must link a physician’s mental illness to an inability to safely practice medicine.  In fact, the Medical Board does not need to show immediate harm to the public or evidence of poor or substandard medical practice to limit or restrict a physician’s license if it is determined that he or she suffers from a mental illness.

Under the Ohio Medical Board statute, if the Board has reason to believe that a physician suffers from a mental illness that could affect their ability to practice medicine, the Board can order the physician to undergo a psychiatric evaluation with a Board approved psychiatrist (a psychiatrist selected and approved by the Medical Board). The evaluation, which generally runs between $2,500-$4,800, is at the expense of the physician. Generally, before the evaluation, the physician is required to sign a release form and submit his or her medical records, including mental health records, to the Board approved psychiatrist for review. After reviewing the physician’s medical records, the Board approved psychiatrist will evaluate the physician and make a determination. The evaluation may or may not include psychological testing and may or may not include the psychiatrist contacting family members, colleagues or co-workers to evaluate the physician’s “ability to practice.”

After the evaluation, the Board approved psychiatrist will make one of the following recommendations to the Board:

-physician may continue to practice medicine with no Board monitoring; or

-physician may continue to practice medicine as long as they enter into a monitoring agreement that requires them to maintain treatment with a psychiatrist or therapist and for the therapist to submit quarterly reports to the Board; or

-the physician is unfit to practice medicine and his or her license will be suspended until such time as s/he can provide the Medical Board with evaluations from two additional psychiatrists that s/he is fit to resume practice. These evaluations are, again, at the expense of the physician.

If the physician is required to enter into any type of monitoring agreement with the Medical Board, the agreement is a public document.  Such agreement typically includes the physican’s medical diagnosis and conditions under which he or she may continue to practice medicine. It is reported to the National Practitioner’s Data Bank and is accessible to the public on the Medical Board website.

Many physicians throughout the state have voiced strong opposition to the lack of confidentiality of the monitoring program, the onerous nature of the monitoring conditions and the chilling effect that curtails many from seeking appropriate medical care for fear that their confidential medical records would be reviewed by Medical Board Members or staff. (Confidential medical records are NOT released to the public. However, the physician’s medical diagnosis, monitoring conditions and name of their treating doctor is released to the public.)

Many individuals have been contacting the Medical Board with their concerns about the punitive way in which the Medical Board treats physicians who suffer from a mental health condition. Many individuals are also pushing for Ohio to institute a confidential program to monitor physicians. If you believe that physicians should be provided with a confidential monitoring program, I recommend that you contact the State Medical Board of Ohio and voice your concerns.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or the State Medical Board of Ohio in general, please contact one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles & Collis, LLC at 614-486-3909, or by email to Beth@collislaw.com.

 

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