Incompetent Colleagues

A study in the July 14, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports on the findings of a survey of nearly 2,000 physicians around the country. The authors, from Massachusetts General Hospital, asked how many of the respondents knew of a colleague who was impaired or incompetent to perform work. The low proportion who said yes (17%) was encouraging, but the proportion who informed the authorities (69%) was also low.

The upshot of the study points to a gap between the recognition of improper behavior and the mechanisms for how to combat it. Those who did not report their bungling colleagues mostly cited reasons like they thought someone else was taking care of the problem or that a formal complaint would have no effect.

Perhaps even more upsetting–though less commented on–was the finding that only 64% of all respondents felt a professional obligation to report impaired or incompetent colleagues. For the integrity of the profession and the benefit of patients, every physician must feel responsible for helping their colleagues. Leadership should ensure that such reports will be taken seriously, investigated, and acted on.


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