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Survey: Doctors Don't Tell on Colleagues

Myra Dembrow

February 26 2008

While most physicians acknowledge that they should report incompetent
colleagues, about half admit failing to do it, a recent survey

Eric Campbell, PhD, and his colleagues at Harvard University's
Institute for Health Policy in Boston discovered the gap between
attitudes and actions when they questioned 1,662 doctors.

Almost every respondent (96%) agreed that “physicians should report
all instances of significantly impaired or incompetent colleagues” to
appropriate authorities. But 45% admitted to at least one incident in
the past three years when they did not report despite “direct personal
knowledge” of impairment or incompetence.

The pattern was similar for “significant medical errors,” with 93%
agreeing that physicians should re-port, and 46% admitting they had
turned a blind eye at least once in the past three years.

“Physician behavior did not always reflect the standards they
endorsed,” the authors conclude in Annals of Internal Medicine

The project is based on the Charter on Professionalism developed by
the American College of Physicians and the American Board of Internal
Medicine in 2002. Survey participants included internists, family
practitioners, pediatricians, general surgeons, anesthesiologists, and

Eight of 12 charter standards got support from at least 90% of the
doctors. The only standard to attract less than 80% agreement was the
assertion that physicians should submit to periodic exams for
recertification. Only 77% of respondents liked that idea.