Here for Colorado physicians, confidentially
by Doris C. Gundersen, MD, CPHP Medical Director
Featured in the July-August 2019 Colorado Medicine Colorado Medicine.
Efforts to address issues pertaining to physician illness and impairment began as far back as 1958. Historically, medical boards considered addiction among physicians as a disciplinary problem rather than a health problem, consistent with the belief that addiction was a moral failure, rather than the disease we know it is today.
Ultimately, state physician health programs were developed to assist physicians through rehabilitation and protect the public by monitoring the health of the recovering physicians in a confidential and supportive manner. Having this therapeutic alternative to discipline resulted in more physicians willing to come forward when needing assistance. Over time, physician health programs expanded in scope to include other potentially impairing illnesses such as mood and anxiety disorders, burnout and neurological disorders, to name a few.
The Colorado Physician Health Program (CPHP) was developed in 1986. Since our inception, we have assisted over 5,300 physicians. At any one time, we provide supportive health monitoring to approximately 500 physicians. We see about 300 new physicians each year.
Our services are free to physicians licensed in the state of Colorado. We provide comprehensive health assessments, make timely referrals to needed treatment and monitor the progress of our participants as they recover from illness. CPHP also provides support and critical incident debriefing for physicians who are involved in lawsuits or who have experienced bad outcomes. When necessary, CPHP advocates for our participants needing time off from work, modified duty or accommodations.
CPHP provides education to the medical community on a regular basis. The topics include stress management, wellness, education about addiction and other occupational hazards physicians face. CPHP is devoted to conducting physician health research and has produced several publications accepted by peer-reviewed journals.
Unlike the majority of physician health programs across the country, physicians in Colorado are afforded strict confidentiality from the medical board. With this confidentiality in place, the number of voluntary participants has grown exponentially.
With this model, CPHP is able to intervene early, before impairment develops and before the public is in jeopardy. With this confidentiality, CPHP assists more physicians each year compared to otherstates lacking confidentiality.
Finally, a joint research project between CPHP and COPIC revealed that physicians who participate in our program – for any health problem – have a lower malpractice risk compared to physicians in the general community. We believe this is because physicians learn better self-care skills in the process.
Remember, healthy doctors give better care! Please visit our website at www.CPHP.org for additional information on our services.