Accreditors should not punish radiologists, other docs for seeking mental health support, advocates say

As accreditation agencies look to resume their normal work, dozens of doc groups are imploring them to avoid factoring physicians’ well-being into their decision-making.

The Society of Interventional Radiology, American College of Radiology, Council for Medical Specialty Societies and others made their case for compassion in a joint statement issued Tuesday. Many physicians are grappling with burnout and PTSD due to the coronavirus pandemic, and accreditation orgs must not punish them for pursuing help, they argued.

"For most physicians and clinicians, seeking treatment for mental health triggers legitimate fear of resultant loss of licensure, loss of income or other career setbacks,” the groups wrote. “Such fears are known to deter physicians from accessing necessary mental healthcare. Seeking care should be strongly encouraged, not penalized."

In radiology, accreditation can serve as a powerful tool to help distinguish one imaging program from the next, experts note. Entities that provide this service in imaging include the American College of Radiology, the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission, RadSite and the Joint Commission. The latter is reportedly resuming its site inspections this month, after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had asked such agencies to suspend their work to help ease provider anxiety.

The JC issued its own statement on May 12, emphasizing that it “strongly encourages” organizations not to ask about a physician’s mental health history as part of accreditation. Rather, inquiries should be limited to conditions currently impacting docs’ ability to perform their duties.

“It is critical that we ensure healthcare workers can feel free to access mental health resources,” the commission’s statement reads.

The Society of Interventional Radiology and cosignatories said they concur with the JC’s sentiment, and they’re encouraging other accreditors to take the same tack.

“As important as providing personal protective equipment is the need to ensure the mental health of our front-line clinicians is attended to during the COVID-19 pandemic," American Psychiatric Association President Jeffrey Geller, MD, said in a prepared statement. "Each healthcare professional should seek help if needed without hesitation and should be helped to do so by a colleague if such assistance is necessary.”