AMA model bill: Physician Health Programs Act

Background

The purpose of this Act is to enhance the protection of the public by providing for a successful
means of confidential and professional support of physicians and other health care professionals who
have a potentially impairing substance use disorder, mental health condition, or other medical
disease that may adversely affect the physician’s or other health care professional’s ability to safely
and effectively treat patients.

Effective physician health programs (PHP) have confidential referral, evaluation and treatment
protocols to help ensure that physicians and other health care professionals who need treatment can
receive it with the goal of ongoing care and return to professional practice.

This Act takes much of its language from existing statutes with the intent to appropriately detect
potentially impairing conditions early in their course, evaluate and treat physicians and other health
care professionals to enhance the health of the provider and thereby better ensure public safety.
Effective PHPs rely on clinical guidelines and treatment protocols from professional associations,
including the American Society of Addiction Medicine, American Academy of Addiction
Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association and the Federation of State of State Physician Health
Programs. Physicians and other health care professionals who have received assistance, guidance
and treatment through a PHP have successfully stayed in recovery and advanced their professional
careers.

Major sections of model bill

In addition to the background and findings sections to help provide the necessary information to
educate policymakers on the importance of the issues, this model bill includes the following
provisions:

  • Definitions. The model act provides definitions for, among other things, “mental health disorder”, “professional incompetence”, “substance use disorder”, and “impairment”
  • Authority for a PHP to work with all professional licensing boards and peer review protection for the scope of services it provides to its participants
  • Application to a PHP for voluntary assistance and guidance. The model act provides for a confidential process by which a physician or other health care professional may voluntarily request participation in a PHP. It also provides that voluntarily participating physicians and other health care professionals shall not be required to disclose such participation as a condition of participation, employment, credentialing or other situations
  • Referral to a PHP. The model act provides authority for and protections to a physician or other health care professional who refers another physician or health care professional to a PHP. The protections are based on the referring professional’s reasonable belief that a colleague needs the help of the PHP. The referral would have full confidentiality protections.
  • Agreement with the licensing board. The model act contains multiple provisions to helpensure coordination with state professional licensing boards. This includes the authority for the board(s) to enter agreements with the PHP(s) as well as authorizing the Board to refer its licensees to the PHP and allow the PHP to refer non-compliant physicians and other healthcare professionals to the Board.

Importantly, the model act contains more than 20 citations to assist medical societies and policymakers who may want additional information on the beneficial aspects of a PHP. For more information, including a copy of the model act, please contact AMA Senior Legislative Attorney Daniel Blaney-Koen, JD, at daniel.blaney-koen [at] ama-assn.org or (312) 464-4954.