AMA Announces New Approach to Physician Mental Health Care

In response to growing concerns about the mental health of physicians and medical students, the American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted a new policy to reduce the stigma associated with medical professionals seeking mental health care. The approach would give members of the medical community the ability to seek care for managing burnout, anxiety, depression, and substance-related disorders without fear of punitive treatment or licensure and career restrictions.

“We are deeply concerned that physicians and physicians-in-training are discouraged from seeking mental health services because they are afraid that publicly disclosing a mental health issue would unfairly stigmatize them and impede their ability to obtain a medical license,” said AMA Immediate Past President David O. Barbe, MD. “Too many of our physician colleagues are dealing with burnout, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. … We must do everything we can to improve physician wellness and eliminate any barriers that stand in the way of physicians accessing needed mental health-care services.”

As a part of these efforts, the AMA is encouraging state medical licensure boards to ask physicians only about current mental or physical disabilities that could affect the provider’s ability to practice medicine in a competent, ethical, and professional manner. The recommendation would reduce the most severe consequences for reporting or seeking treatment, such as dismissal or suspension of medical license.

The move is a part of the AMA’s Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability initiative, intended to improve health care by focusing on the well-being of physicians and their practices. It is the latest in a series of policies designed to reduce physician burnout, create healthier educational practice environments, and allow physicians to better take care of themselves and their patients.

Sources: AMA press release, June 13, 2018; AMA News, June 13, 2018.