While most physicians acknowledge that they should report incompetent colleagues, about half admit failing to do it, a recent survey reports.


Eric Campbell, PhD, and his colleagues at Harvard University’s Institute for Health Policy in Boston discovered the gap between attitudes and actions when they questioned 1,662 doctors.

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Almost every respondent (96%) agreed that “physicians should report all instances of significantly impaired or incompetent colleagues” to appropriate authorities. But 45% admitted to at least one incident in the past three years when they did not report despite “direct personal knowledge” of impairment or incompetence.


The pattern was similar for “significant medical errors,” with 93% agreeing that physicians should re-port, and 46% admitting they had turned a blind eye at least once in the past three years.


“Physician behavior did not always reflect the standards they endorsed,” the authors conclude in Annals of Internal Medicine (2007;147:795-802).


The project is based on the Charter on Professionalism developed by the American College of Physicians and the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2002. Survey participants included internists, family practitioners, pediatricians, general surgeons, anesthesiologists, and cardiologists.


Eight of 12 charter standards got support from at least 90% of the doctors. The only standard to attract less than 80% agreement was the assertion that physicians should submit to periodic exams for recertification. Only 77% of respondents liked that idea.