Following the urging of the Colorado Medical Society Medical Student Section, both of Colorado’s medical schools, CPHP and others, the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) has changed questions on the physician professional licensing application regarding mental health and substance use disorders to focus on conduct and behaviors, rather than diagnosis. The revised application went live on Jan. 16 and DORA is in the process of updating the applications for other professions.

“This should assist with the balance necessary for applicants to disclose information necessary for our mission of public protection, and focusing on what we are looking for which is behaviors or conduct that have gotten the applicant in trouble,” a DORA spokesperson wrote in an email.

Earlier in the fall and again last week CMS expressed concern with a question on the licensing application about whether the applicant has been diagnosed with or treated for a condition that may impair his or her ability to practice in a health care field, as well as a question about having “abused or excessively used” alcohol or other habit-forming drugs now or in the past five years.

CMS and others stated that applicants should not be forced to report mental illness or neurologic conditions if the condition or behavior is already known to the Colorado Physician Health Program (CPHP), and that overbroad questions should be written to directly target harmful behaviors. An unintended consequence of poorly written application screening questions would be that physicians, medical students and residents could be discouraged from seeking needed care.

The new questions very specifically inquire whether a potential licensee has engaged in conduct or exhibited behaviors that resulted in “an impairment of your ability to practice in a safe, competent, ethical and professional manner” or “abusing or excessively using any habit forming drug, including alcohol, or any illegal or controlled substance resulting in any discipline for misconduct, failure to meet professional responsibilities, or affecting your ability to practice safely and competently.”

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