(NaturalNews) One out of three doctors who become aware that a colleague may be "impaired or incompetent" fail to report their concerns to authorities, according to a survey conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers asked almost 2,000 doctors about experiences in which a colleague appeared to be impaired or incompetent while on duty. A full 17 percent of respondents said that they had witnessed such an occurrence at least once in the past three years. One-third of these said they had not done anything about the incident, and thirty-six percent said they did not fully agree that it was their responsibility to do so.
Doctors in two-person or solo practices were even less likely to report colleagues, with only 44 percent doing so.
The most commonly given reason for failing to report a colleague was a belief that someone else was handling the problem, followed by concern that the colleague would either be punished too strictly or not strictly enough.
According to lead researcher Catherine DesRoches, many doctors may also be unfamiliar with the process for reporting incompetence.
American Medical Association (AMA) policy requires all doctors to report any colleague they believe to be unfit to practice.
"I think there's no excuse for less than 100 percent of physicians holding true to our professional ideals," said Matthew Wynia, director of the AMA's Institute for Ethics. "Reporting an impaired or incompetent colleague is very clear cut. It's a professional obligation."
"Many poor doctors continue to practice for years even after numerous lawsuits, unethical behavior, and negligent action," writes Duncan Long in his book Attaining Medical Self Sufficiency.
"To the shame of the medical community, there is an unspoken understanding that doctors don't report misconduct or incompetence of other doctors when they see it. This 'gentlemanly behavior' costs many patients their lives. ... As the old saying goes, 'Doctors bury their mistakes.'"