Tom Curtis, an Irvine-based healthcare expert and attorney, recently presented at a workshop at the University of Southern California Medical Center to physicians about the critical role of hospital physician wellness committees.

The event was sponsored by the California Public Protection and Physician Health Inc. (CPPPH), a coalition that provides support and resources for physicians facing medical, substance abuse, and other issues.

“I have represented physicians for 38 years and done several hundreds of medical staff disciplinary proceedings relating to physicians’ conduct, such as disruptive behavior, alcohol and substance abuse and other inappropriate conduct,” Curtis told PNN. “Anytime a case escalates and requires disciplinary proceedings, it’s a lose-lose proposition [for the doctor and the hospital].”

With today’s physicians facing rising rates of burnout, stress and substance abuse issues, there is an even greater need for effective physician wellness committees.

Most of the 50 attending physicians at the workshop—including doctors from Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange County, and other medical staff—admitted they too are facing issues of burnout and stress, Curtis noted.

Physician wellness committees serve an important purpose by providing doctors with the necessary resources to avoid disciplinary action. If a disciplinary action is upheld, it can potentially ruin a doctor’s career, he said. It’s also in the hospital’s best interest to avoid time-consuming and costly disciplinary proceedings.

“If it is possible to help the physician and save his or her career, that is what we want to do,” Curtis said.

He talked about the legal and regulatory function of how physician wellness committees should operate and their mandatory presence in every hospital in California.

“Physician wellness committees are required by state regulations and the accreditation by the Joint Commission and their condition of the licensure of the hospital,” Curtis noted. “They have to be present, and they are, but some of them could be more effective.”

Dr. Laurie Reynard, an OBGYN in Santa Monica, applauded Curtis’s presentation.

She said she wasn’t aware that physician wellness committees are required in hospitals.

“We need to demand that hospitals put up the money so they can sponsor programs for physician wellness, like retreats,” Dr. Reynard said.

Curtis agreed that providing educational activities, such as conferences, annual or quarterly meetings with the medical staff, and newsletters, are all tools to arrive at an effective wellness program.

“You have to engender trust and educate the medical staff that the wellness committee is there for them, what it does, can and cannot do and that it operates as a resource for them,” he said.

He said it is critical that wellness committees keep all information confidential and offer doctors support to ensure they are trustworthy “before a problem gets to the point where it will have adverse consequences.”

The workshop was a good step in the right direction, he said, with doctors starting a dialogue among themselves and offering resources, such as consultants, outside psychiatrists and psychologists that can facilitate treatment to doctors in need.

“There was an exchange of information and recommendations by attendees about people they work with,” he said.

He said CPPPH plans to hold similar workshops at other locations in the near future.

Event took place Sept 7 at the University of Southern California Medical Center.

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