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Addressing mental illness, substance abuse issues in the physician discipline process

Last time, we looked briefly at the how the heavy emphasis state medical boards place on mental health and substance abuse history in the licensing of physicians may be prompting physicians with these struggles to keep quiet about them and avoid seeking help. We also mentioned that, in some cases, the way state medical boards treat these matters may be illegal under federal law.

Mental illness and substance abuse can serve not only as a basis for denying or limiting licensure, but also for discipline of already licensed physicians. Under Minnesota law, when it is determined that a physician is mentally incompetent, mentally disabled, mentally ill, or chemically dependent, there will be an automatic suspension of that person’s medical license unless the medical board decides that there are mitigating factors that warrant different treatment.

In addition, Minnesota law includes among the grounds for physician discipline the inability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patient due to a mental condition. Discipline can take various forms, including license revocation, suspension, imposition of conditions on the practice of medicine, civil penalties, volunteer work under professional supervision, and public reprimand.

Whenever a physician comes under investigation because of a complaint of professional misconduct, it is critical to work with an experienced advocate who understands the process and the rights physicians have in the process. A skilled advocate will help ensure these rights are protected, that the state medical board has an accurate record of information, and that all relevant factors are taken into consideration when rendering judgment.