Australian pathways and solutions for dealing with older impaired doctors: a prevention model
Our ageing medical workforce poses many challenges, not the least of which is acknowledging the contributions of ageing practitioners who continue to practise safely and competently while ensuring that those who are incompetent by virtue of impairment are identified, assessed and either rehabilitated or encouraged to retire. Hitherto, there has been little attempt to review approaches to impairment on a national basis in Australia, let alone with a focus on older doctors. Information regarding pathways for dealing with impairment was obtained from the websites and confirmed by representatives of regulatory bodies of every state or territory in Australia. Using a prevention model we outline the current Australian regulatory processes, address some of the barriers and suggest some solutions to dealing with the older impaired doctor. Much of the focus in dealing with the older impaired doctor is tertiary prevention based, that is, reducing the negative influence of established impairment. There is some uniformity in the way that Australian regulatory bodies deal with impairment that espouses the dual goals of protecting the public and rehabilitating the doctor. The approach is typically individualized and multi-levelled, beginning with assessment followed by rehabilitation where appropriate. A range of secondary and primary prevention measures is proposed for dealing with the problem of the older impaired doctor. These include educating the medical community, encouraging early notification and facilitating career planning and timely retirement of older doctors. This will have benefits both in protecting the public as well as preventing an undignified and humiliating end to often-unblemished careers in medicine.