Arizona statutory law creates a duty to report suspected physician impairment under certain circumstances and a privilege (Qualified Immunity protection) to report in others. Curiously, the Arizona Legislature has mandated that allopathic physicians shall “report to the board any information that appears to show that adoctor of medicine is or may be medically incompetent, is or may be guilty of unprofessional conduct or is or may be mentally or physically unable safely to engage in the practice of medicine.” A.R.S. §32-1451(A)http://www.azleg.state.az.us; osteopathic physicians shall “report to the board any information the physician or surgeon, association, health care institution or other person may have that appears to show that an osteopathic physician and surgeon is or may be guilty of unprofessional conduct or is or may be mentally or physically unable safely to engage in the practice of medicine. A.R.S. §32-1855(A). http://www.azleg.state.az.us There appears to be no statutory duty for MDs to report DOs and vice versa. This anomaly sometimes leads impaired physicians to engage in doctor shopping while attempting to evade detection.
Both statutes cited above permit but do not require (“and any other personmay”) reporting. Both statutes provide qualified civil liability immunity for “good faith” reporting: “Any person who reports or provides information to the board in good faith is not subject to civil damages as a result of that action.” One considering a report for improper reasons, e.g., to obtain an improper advantage during a custody battle, may want to think twice.
Statutory anonymity may be available for the reporting individual. Both statutes provide for anonymity in the reporting of suspected physician impairment. There are minor but important differences in the breadth of the respective Boards’ immunity provisions. If you are considering a report that is not mandated by these statutes, legal advice should clarify whether the voluntary report will be protected by qualified immunity.
In addition to individuals, healthcare entities are required to report suspected physician impairment. The Boards are required by statute to report to the appropriate licensing agency the failure of a licensed healthcare entity’s failure to comply with its statutory duty to report. The Arizona Medical Board’s statement of this duty has evolved. The current statement is found in Substantive Policy Statement #13. http://www.azmd.gov/Files/Policies/SPS13.pdf Not that, by its terms, this statement applies to individual MDs as well. In addition, the statutes cited in the first paragraph of this article define as Unprofessional Conduct the failure by an allopathic or osteopathic physician to make a statutorily mandated report. Thus, if you have a statutory duty to report a colleague, you may face disciplinary action for failing to do so.
The decision to report a colleague that is or may be impaired is a serious one. Understanding of the law governing these reports and the consequences of reporting, and of not reporting, require legal expertise and experience. Contact me for assistance at Cal@RaupLaw.com.