Is Substance Abuse Among Medical Professionals Leading to Malpractice?

Hewitt & Salvatore, PLLC discusses whether or not substance abuse among medical professionals causes malpractice.

We expect a lot from our nurses and physicians. The amount of focus that their jobs require can even be the difference between life and death. Even the slightest bit off when measuring medication can prove fatal. But working long hours can also be exhausting and sharply focusing becomes more and more difficult. That’s why medical errors (malpractice) is believed to be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Correlation Between Stress and Substance Abuse

The pressure that generally accompanies a medical career can drive even the most composed medical professionals to turn to drugs and alcohol as a method for coping with the inordinate amount of stress. The good news is that substance abuse among medical professionals is about the same ratio as the general population (6% – 10%) – not more. However, doctors and nurses have still been found to be five times likelier than the average person to use drugs and alcohol.

Correlation Between Medical Professionals and Stress

Health care workers expressed their strong desire to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for job stress and anxiety. Also important to note is that unsurprisingly, the more stress that is present, the higher the rates of substance abuse among workers in the medical field. It, therefore, follows that doctors have three times the rate of substance abuse as the average worker in the medical world. 

Statistics Likely Underreported

These statistics are mostly based on information obtained from the National Practitioner Data Bank. Hospitals have mandatory reporting for any disciplinary incidents that involve doctors who have received disciplinary action lasting at least 30 days unless they have voluntarily stepped down. Since all other actions do not need to be reported, it is likely that the actual rates of substance abuse among doctors and nurses are really much higher than reported. 

The Dangers of Intoxication on the Job

The issue with medical professionals being impaired while on the job seems somewhat obvious. Their inability to safely and accurately perform necessary tasks can have devastating effects on their patients. In one such incident, a nurse anesthetist who had misused fentanyl while on the job did not remember to inspect her patient’s oxygen hose during her emergency caesarian section, resulting in oxygen deprivation and subsequent major health issues. 

In another case, a physician who was performing back surgery was also addicted to sedatives and had been sued in the past for malpractice. During the back surgery, the patient went into cardiac arrest after suffering a large loss of blood. The patient sued the hospital for allowing the doctor to continue practicing and won $12 million in punitive damages.

What Can You Do?

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it can have a devastating impact on your life – even aside from the physical. That’s why you deserve to pursue a claim with the help of an experienced and knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney. Contact Hewitt & Salvatore PLLC today.

Posted in: Medical malpractice, Wrongful Death