What Is a Physician Health Program?

Most states have a physician health program (PHP) to help addicted physicians get the drug, alcohol and mental health treatment they need to keep their license and return to practice. In many cases, physicians who willingly participate in a PHP avoid formal complaints to the medical board along with punitive measures, often while maintaining strict confidentiality.

PHPs create structure and accountability and offer support, long-term monitoring and management, advocacy, and other assistance to impaired doctors and other health care professionals. Their goals are to save the lives and careers of addicted physicians as well as protect the public by addressing substance use among doctors.

Physician health programs are non-disciplinary in nature, which means that they may recommend discontinuation of practice, thorough evaluation and long-term monitoring, but they have no direct authority over licensure. PHPs themselves have no power to restrict or remove physicians from practice.

Because many addicted doctors do not want to be reported to the medical board and risk jeopardizing their license, they tend to comply with the PHP’s recommendations, often with very successful long-term outcomes. Overall, PHPs report five-year abstinence rates for substance use disorders of 79%, return to work rates of 96%, and little or no evidence of serious risk or harm to patients.