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Annals of Internal Medicine tip sheet for Sept. 30, 2014

September 29, 2014

Prop 46 Physician Drug Testing Mandate May Harm Patients it Aims to Protect

A new California ballot initiative being touted as a patient safety measure may create more problems than it solves, according to two new commentaries being published in Annals of Internal Medicine. Proposition 46, the Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cap and Drug Testing of Doctors Initiative, would mandate random drug and alcohol testing of physicians and quadruple the cap on medical malpractice awards to $1.1 million. The authors argue that physician drug and alcohol testing should be unrelated to malpractice lawsuits and it is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous to tie the two together. The proposed law suggests that physicians undergo drug and alcohol testing randomly and following an adverse event, but does not define what constitutes an adverse event. The authors suggest that a positive test result would mean immediate punishment with temporary suspension of the physician's license pending an investigation and hearing. This punitive approach may deter physicians from getting help themselves or from reporting their colleagues. Thus, physicians might seek to avoid detection as long as possible, might not be reported as early, and might come to attention only after egregious patient harm. The authors agree that physician impairment is a significant problem that needs to be addressed. However, they argue that more time and thought needs to be invested in solving the issue. They write that Proposition 46 is not the right solution.
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Yul D. Ejnes, MD, MACP, of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, authored "Should California Voters Take the Initiative on Mandatory Testing of Physicians?".

Peter J. Pronovost, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is lead author of "California's Proposition 46: A Wolf in Sheep's Wool". The URLs will be live at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, September 29 and can be included in news stories. For a PDF or to interview Dr. Ejnes, please contact Megan Hanks. To interview Dr. Pronovost, please contact Lisa Broadhead at lbroadh1@jhmi.edu or 703-927-6947.

American College of Physicians

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