Doctors May Be Intoxicated More Often Than Patients Realize

Performing surgery, diagnosing conditions, prescribing medications, and performing virtually any other type of complex medical task requires attention and vigilance. If a physician is not in peak mental condition, they can potentially make errors that can cause serious harm or even death to patients. 

Naturally, it is absolutely unacceptable for a doctor or other such health care worker to be intoxicated on the job. Attempting to perform any health care task while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is massively irresponsible.

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that physicians may be intoxicated at work more often than patients suspect.

Drunk and ‘High’ Doctors: A Common Problem?

It can be challenging to determine with any degree of absolute certainty how often physicians and other such health care professionals treat patients or arrive to work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, by reviewing statements from doctors themselves, the limited studies that are available on the topic, and relevant pieces of investigative journalism, it’s possible to gain a general understanding of just how widespread this issue may be.

Consider a 2014 opinion piece originally printed in Zocalo Public Square magazine and republished in TIME magazine’s online edition. Its author, Ken Murray, MD, served as a physician with his own practice as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at USC before retiring. In this short piece, Murray cites multiple instances of physician and health care worker negligence, such as surgeons who were known to drink heavily arriving to perform emergency surgery while clearly smelling of alcohol, assistants stealing drugs from his practice, and more. He argues that regular mandatory drug and alcohol testing for physicians could help ensure patient safety.

An ABC News story also covers multiple instances of surgeons losing their licenses or facing other forms of disciplinary action after being caught or admitting to drinking on the job. To test whether people would intervene if they were aware that a surgeon was likely to operate on a patient while intoxicated, the team behind this story hired actors to pose as surgeons at a restaurant.

The “surgeons” drank heavily and called attention to themselves to ensure other restaurant guests were aware of their behavior. They then pretended to receive a call indicating they needed to return to work to perform an emergency operation and rushed to finish their drinks accordingly. Although the team behind the story observed that some guests appeared to look on in shock as they saw what they assumed to be genuine (and genuinely intoxicated) surgeons discuss performing emergency surgery, no one intervened, and some nearby diners even attempted to help the actors cover up the smell of alcohol on their breath. This indicates we may place so much trust in health care workers that we are willing to assume they “know what they are doing” and would not treat patients if they were not capable of doing so safely.

Keep in mind, that these are just a few examples. It is impossible to know exactly how frequently doctors provide treatment while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Hopefully, you will never be harmed because a negligent doctor was treating you while drunk or high. However, if this does happen, our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at The Weitz Firm, LLC can help you pursue compensation for your medical bills and other such losses. Call us at 267-587-6240 or contact us online for more information.



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