South Florida Hospital News
Thursday August 6, 2020
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November 2010 - Volume 7 - Issue 5
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PRN and the Impaired Healthcare Professional

Doctors and other health care professionals, like members of the public at large, can encounter impairments that adversely affect their ability to perform acceptably. The issue becomes more serious, however, when a physician is involved because impairments can jeopardize patient safety. These impairments can include drug and alcohol dependency, psychiatric illness, behavioral disorders and other conditions.

Fortunately, Florida has one of the oldest and best physician health programs in the country, the Professionals Resource Network. PRN is charged with the responsibility of providing evaluation and treatment options to impaired physicians and others with the goal of helping them overcome their conditions and return to their practices.
 
Impaired physicians are a focus of PRN’s activities, but its services are also provided to more than 30 other health care professions licensed by the state, including pharmacists, psychologists and physician assistants. A separate program, the Intervention Program for Nurses, provides similar services for impaired nurses. PRN and IPN operate under contract to the Department of Health.
 
Health care professionals enter the program through referrals, in some cases self-referrals by impaired practitioners who realize they need help. A number of the health care professionals who receive treatment from PRN providers work for hospitals, and it is in the best interest of hospital administrators to refer those who they feel may be impaired to the program.
 
In some cases, hospital administrators may be reluctant to refer impaired physicians for fear that participation in PRN programs would ruin their careers. Far from it. Participation in PRN programs helps impaired professionals get back on track and resume productive careers in health care. Failing to refer physicians suspected of conditions that could endanger patients could expose hospitals to liability issues.
 
For these reasons, PRN urges hospital administrators to refer physicians and others providers for treatment if it appears that they are impaired by addiction, mental health issues or other debilitating conditions. PRN officials are available to provide in-service presentations on the program to South Florida hospitals. For more information go to www.flprn.org.
 
The first step when impaired physicians are referred to the program is to evaluate them. If the PRN Medical Director determines there is a need for intervention, participants are given a choice of three evaluators. If the evaluator they select recommends treatment, they are given a choice of three treatment providers.
 
Treatment options range from medication to extensive residential therapy, depending on the circumstances.
 
Impaired participants are required to sign a Monitoring/Advocacy Contract with PRN specific to their particular illness. Most of the contracts are for five years, and physicians who comply with their agreements that long have a 92 percent success rate.
 
Participation in the program is confidential in most cases. The names of participants are not revealed to the Department of Health or the appropriate licensing boards as long as participants comply with the terms of their agreements with PRN. If they violate the terms of their agreements, however, state law requires that their cases be referred to the appropriate state agency for disciplinary action.
 
To enhance patient protection, participants cannot work while they are in treatment. They can return to work after they complete treatment but are required to undergo monitoring in many cases. Monitoring can include urine toxicology screening, psychotherapy or group therapy.
 
In an effort to facilitate recovery, PRN has developed a program called the Family Component. The program helps family members cope with the stress of dealing with physicians and others who have chemical dependencies or other issues. Services include intervention assistance, treatment referrals and continuing care.
 
Impaired physicians and others have suffered setbacks that jeopardize their careers and, potentially, their lives, but they deserve to be given every opportunity to recover and resume productive careers. That’s what we do at PRN.
Dr. Judy Rivenbark, medical director of the Professionals Resource Network, can be reached at (904) 277-8004 or Drrivenbbark@flprn.org.
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