Why Drug Testing Physicians Makes Sense

Why Drug Testing Physicians Makes Sense
Senior Director of Marketing

Physician drug testing, and healthcare worker drug testing in general, has been a hot topic in 2014 for several reasons. From Inspector General Daniel Levinson from the Department of Health and Human Services discussing healthcare worker random drug testing in an Op-Ed article in the New York Times to California’s Proposition 46 which includes a random drug testing requirement for physicians, it’s clearly an issue in healthcare. Unlike other safety-sensitive industries such as transportation, physicians are currently not required to undergo drug testing in any of the U.S. Therefore, why should healthcare organizations and medical staff services managers consider physician drug testing if it’s not required by law? For PreCheck, it’s always about the safety and care of patients.

When you consider the latest statistics in the industry, physician drug testing may not seem like a far-fetched idea.

Drug Testing Positivity Rates Have Increased for the First Time in Over 10 Years

According to the latest Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index, the percentage of positive drug tests among American workers has increased for the first time in more than a decade. Although the increase in positivity rates was influenced by the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, it’s not the only drug usage that’s increased according to the report. Amphetamine use, specifically the use of methamphetamine, also showed an increase in Quest Diagnostic’s research. Amphetamine positivity rates are now at their highest levels and methamphetamine positivity rates are at their highest levels since 2007, the report says.

More Than 100,000 Physicians and Medical Staff Have Substance Abuse Problems

In April 2014, USA TODAY published an article in which it reported that “over 100,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and health care aides are abusing or dependent on prescription drugs in a given year, putting patients at risk.” Drug diversion, which is the official term for stealing drugs, is an issue of concern in the healthcare industry. With the ease of access to drugs in the healthcare profession, prescription drug abuse is a key issue in the industry. An estimated one in 10 practitioners will fall into drug or alcohol abuse at some point in their lives, the report says.

Johns Hopkins Researchers and the OIG Call for Drug Testing of Physicians

In 2013, a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association discusses the need for the drug testing of physicians. Researchers Julius Cuong Pham, M.D., Peter J. Pronovorst, M.D., Ph.D., and Gregory E. Skipper, M.D., state, “Patients and their family members have a right to be protected from impaired physicians.” The authors recommend hospitals to require drug testing for new hires as well as establishing a policy for random alcohol and drug testing.

More recently, in March 2014, Inspector Levinson and Erika T. Broadhurst from the OIG published an article in the New York Times discussing the case of David Kwiatkowski, a medical technician that left a trail of over 45 unexplained Hepatitis C cases, including two deaths, before being arrested. Kwiatkowski’s case is extremely unfortunate; which is why the OIG believes “hospitals should be required to perform random drug tests on all health care workers with access to drugs.” Specifically, they recommend screening for fentanyl (the drug Kwiatkowski abused) and other commonly abused drugs with evolving drug abuse problems.

While the drug testing of physicians may not be required by law, there are several reasons why healthcare organizations might want to adopt the practice in order to ensure the safety of patients. The latest research and statistics in the industry indicate substance abuse problems are prevalent among physicians, an issue that is often overlooked.

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