Scott Hambleton, MD, DFASAM, Spring 2024

Scott Hambleton, MD, DFASAM

As I write my farewell message for the Federation’s spring edition of Physician Health News, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude and reflection as well as an unwavering commitment to the mission of the Federation of State Physician Health Programs to support physician health programs in improving the health of medical professionals. It has been an incredible honor to serve as your president, and it is with both pride and humility that I  prepare to pass the torch to the extremely capable hands of Dr. Michael Baron, your president-elect. Meeting weekly with our incredible executive director, Linda Bresnahan, and Drs. Baron and Christopher Bundy, our immediate past president, has been one of the greatest joys of my adult life! I cannot overemphasize the competence, generosity, dedication, and brilliance of these individuals, and the gift that has been given to me through  frequent contact with them. In similar fashion, my association with the past presidents, board members, committee chairs, committee members, and all Federation members and stakeholders is an immense source of joy and fulfillment that has enriched my personal recovery journey beyond measure. The collective passion and commitment of members and supporters of the Federation to each other and to our shared mission have made this experience truly remarkable.

As I bid adieu to this chapter of this adventure, I would like to emphasize a critical message that underscores the essence of our work, which is the imperative to preserve and promote confidentiality in three significant domains: first, reform of questions on applications for medical licensure credentialing and liability insurance coverage; second, enshrined protection of PHP records; and third, provision for exceptions to mandated reporting through utilization of Physician Health Program services. These components are the essential pillars of the tripartite foundation of confidentiality.

I am confident that utilization of the Federation’s Evaluation and Treatment Accreditation™ (FSPHPETA ™) program for treatment providers of professionals and the Performance Enhancement and Effectiveness Review (PEER™) program for individual state PHPs will help to significantly reduce unnecessary and potentially harmful practice variation. However, we have much work to do regarding the continued establishment of confidentiality—across the field. 

The process of reforming medical licensure questions is under way and is reducing stigma, resulting in promotion of the PHP model. This is a great victory! However, much work is still needed with credentialing entities and professional liability carriers, who inadvertently promote stigma and decrease treatment seeking through unnecessary probing questions in the application process. The protection of records at the PHP level is a pivotal aspect of our mission. Peer review is essential for assessing the competence and conduct of healthcare providers. However, the information gathered during this process must be handled with utmost care and transparency. Protection of PHP records with the promise of confidentiality results in increased utilization of PHP services. In states where reporting impaired colleagues is mandated, respective PHPs in those states that are enabled to receive reports of impaired colleagues have experienced increased utilization of PHP services. Those services would be significantly hindered without the ability to function as an exception to mandated reporting. This exception to mandated reporting, along with the other pillars of confidentiality, serves as a powerful incentive for early identification and treatment of individuals with potentially impairing illnesses, which saves lives and careers and ensures a healthy physician workforce. Balancing the need for accountability with a commitment to recovery is a delicate tightrope that PHPs navigate daily. To facilitate this, the Federation will soon provide recommendations encouraging us all to emphasize and clarify the concept of confidentiality, and its essential pillars, with eventual recommendations for best practices for all PHPs and treatment providers. I am confident that this information will be a great asset to all PHPs as they endeavor to implement the PHP model.

Throughout my term as president, I have had the privilege of witnessing the transformative power of our organization. The FSPHP, comprising dedicated state physician health programs, is a beacon of hope for healthcare and other professionals facing personal and occupational challenges. We have worked tirelessly to create an environment where physicians, healthcare providers, and other professionals can seek assistance, embark on a path to recovery, and ultimately continue their honorable journey of healing without the crippling burden of stigma or fear. Confidentiality is not merely a principle; it is the very bedrock of trust upon which our programs are built. It is a sacred commitment that ensures that professionals who seek help can do so without fear of exposure or retribution. The assurance of confidentiality is the lifeline that incentivizes those in need to step forward, access the support they require, and begin the journey toward healing. We must preserve and promote confidentiality with unwavering dedication to create a sanctuary where healthcare providers and other professionals can openly discuss their challenges, seek guidance, and find solace in the knowledge that their personal struggles will be treated with the utmost care and privacy.

Our advocacy for a balanced approach is unwavering. We collaborate with regulatory authorities and other stakeholders advocating for policies that promote the well-being of healthcare providers while maintaining the highest standards of patient safety. This approach, rooted in compassion and accountability, not only safeguards the public but also facilitates rehabilitation and recovery for those who have dedicated their lives to healing. PHPs are one of the most valuable assets to protect the healthcare professional workforce. The return on investment for dollars invested in a PHP to assure high-level operations resulting in assurance of a healthy provider workforce is not significantly promoted. However, considering the costs associated with replacing an impaired healthcare professional versus rehabilitating one, the savings associated with funding adequate PHP services are profound.

The FSPHP is a powerful force for good. It is a lifeline for those in need, a source of hope for those in despair, and a sanctuary for those seeking recovery. The work we do is nothing short of transformative, and I have every confidence that this remarkable community will continue to make a lasting impact on the lives of healthcare professionals and the patients they serve. 

I can’t wait to see you all in Nashville!

With heartfelt gratitude and warm regards,
Scott ■

Read more on this in the Spring 2024 issue.