Iowa’s top health officials are exploring changes to the licensing process that advocates say could encourage more doctors to seek treatment for mental health and pharmaceutical use disorders. matter.
According to the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, a group that advocates for more mental health support for healthcare workers.
According to a statement from the Iowa Board of Medicine: “In an effort to reduce any stigma or fear associated with licensees seeking mental health treatment, our team has engaged into several conversations over the past year regarding questions about licensing applications.” .
The board is considering quality control questions in licensure applications, including questions about medical conditions that could “impair or limit” an individual’s ability to practice medicine. The application also includes questions about participating in treatment programs or monitoring their health or alcohol or drug use.
According to the organization, the Iowa Medical Board has received feedback on those questions. However, it’s unclear what changes might be made because officials would not share what feedback the licensing board has received.
“Iowa is implementing medical licensing best practices,” said Corey Feist, co-founder and CEO of the Dr. Lorna Breen Hero Foundation.
How does reducing stigma against doctors affect their patients?
The foundation was founded by the family of Dr. Lorna Breen, a prominent Manhattan emergency room physician who died by suicide in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since 2020, the organization has led the effort to change certification paperwork in states across the country.
When certifying medical professionals, Feist said the organization found that most state licensing boards ask questions that “create structural stigma that serves to discourage and track in some way penalizes licensed healthcare professionals from receiving the same mental health treatments they may prescribe for their patients.”
Any condition left untreated, whether it’s a physical condition or a mental health condition, by a doctor can directly impact the care they provide, Feist said. core.
“If a health care worker has untreated diabetes or an eye disorder and they are operating on a patient, there is a potential for medical error,” Feist said. “And it’s the same with untreated mental health conditions. The idea is we want your care team to be taken care of so they can take care of you.”
The move also helps rural states like Iowa, which have long struggled with physician workforce shortages, better recruit and retain providers. Feist argues that if prospective candidates see that the health system is supportive of employees’ overall health, they may be more likely to apply for positions there.
Survey results released by the Physicians Foundation earlier this year showed that the majority of physicians, residents and medical students nationwide believe there is a stigma surrounding people seeking mental health care. god among their peers.
Additionally, according to the survey, an estimated 4 in 10 physicians are afraid to seek help for burnout or depression because of questions asked in applications for medical licensure or hospital certification. .
That would increase the risk of suicide among these medical professionals, experts say.
“The primary cause of healthcare worker suicide is structural discrimination and concerns about losing your license,” Feist said.
Heroes Foundation Dr. Lorna Breen said the next step is to encourage individual hospitals and health care systems to change the questions on their paperwork so that physicians are certified to provide care at the facility their.
That would help spur broader support for mental health treatment at the local level and would have a greater impact on individual service providers, Feist said.
“Iowa has a model accreditation form for all the hospitals in Iowa, and their form looks great, but each institution has to ask its own peer reference questions,” Feist said. “There’s a lot of variation across Iowa hospitals in what they ask peer references, and many of them are asking questions that are too intrusive.”
Michaela Ramm covers health care for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at email@example.com, at (319) 339-7354 or on Twitter at@Michaela_Ramm
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