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OPA-CAP: A Borrowed Idea from Our Medical Colleagues

Tuesday, January 29, 2019   (0 Comments)
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Written by: Jody Pickle, PhD | Clinical Neuropsychologist | President, Memory & Psychological Services, Inc.

As a psychologist who performs independent psychological examinations, I have noticed that the number of healthcare providers referred for evaluation has been increasing.  The reason for the referrals varies and can include depression and anxiety, substance abuse, or cognitive impairment. Once a healthcare professional self-refers or is identified as having a problem that interferes with their ability to practice, each profession has various methods to assist them in recovering and returning them to work.  

The Nursing Board, for example, works with a nurse with a substance abuse problem and assists him/her in identifying an appropriate treatment program, completing treatment, and then monitoring their sobriety. Physicians have a large problem with substance abuse, perhaps due to their increased access to medication. The Ohio Medical Board requires all licensees to report other colleagues who are impaired for any reason to the Board or risk being sanctioned.  While the Medical Board may require treatment and monitoring for a physician to retain their medical license, physicians also have a separate program to assist them in obtaining treatment or access to resources, which is not part of the medical board. This program is the Ohio Physician’s Health Program (OPHP). 

The Ohio Physician’s Health Program is a program that provides services to physicians, residents, physician assistants, anesthesiology assistants, dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, optometrists, veterinarians, chiropractors, and students of all affiliated healthcare fields with issues impacting their health and well-being. The OPHP also provides community referrals for problems such as: stress, burnout, psychosocial therapy, behavioral issues, gambling addiction, sex addiction, family and marriage counseling, ethics training, boundary violations, prescribing guidelines, legal services, skills assessment, cognitive concerns, eating disorders and others.  

The OPHP does not report a license holder to their medical board if they voluntarily seek treatment and then follow a plan set forth by the program. The exception, of course, it when there is an imminent clear danger to the public. License holders who are required by law to report others who are impaired to the medical board, may satisfy their legal reporting requirement by reporting their concerns to the OPHP. 

In addition, the State of Ohio has a “One Bite” rule for substance abuse by physicians, which was signed into law by Governor Kasich this year. If an impaired physician seeks treatment that meets the standards stipulated by the Medical Board, then they are entitled to “one bite of the apple” meaning they can avoid being sanctioned by the Board and potentially losing their medical license. This treatment must include a 28 day stay in a residential treatment program approved by the Medical Board, 104 sessions with an approved treatment provider, and monitoring for 2-5 years post-treatment. If they utilize the Ohio Physicians Health Program, their treatment is confidential, meets criteria for the Board, and is not reported to the Medical Board. OPHP monitors the recovery of healthcare providers and is able to advocate on their behalf regarding employment, insurance, and legal issues. OPHP is also able to advocate for clients to the appropriate regulatory board if necessary.   

The OPHP is a well-organized program which can help physicians address substance abuse and mental health problems such as burnout and stress. I have had some exposure to the OPHP while evaluating physicians for their employer and have found the program to be highly effective.  Even in situations where a physician is not abusing substances, but was having difficulty with other issues such as emotional regulation or inappropriate behavior, the OPHP provided an effective and collegial monitoring program, which provided the necessary support for success. It was in working with the OPHP and other programs like it that I became interested in the Ohio Colleague Assistance Program, which provides a similar confidential referral service for psychologists requesting assistance or even just resources that may be helpful.  If you are interested in learning more about the OPHP their website is at  https://www.ophp.org/. If you are interested in learning more about providing support for your colleagues in psychology, please contact Cathy McDaniels Wilson at mcdanielswilson@yahoo.com.