Medical Licensure Questions and Physician Reluctance to Seek Care for Mental Health Conditions

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Abstract

Objective:

To determine whether state medical licensure application questions (MLAQs) about mental health are related to physicians' reluctance to seek help for a mental health condition because of concerns about repercussions to their medical licensure.

Methods:

In 2016, we collected initial and renewal medical licensure application forms from 50 states and the District of Columbia. We coded MLAQs related to physicians' mental health as “consistent” if they inquired only about current impairment from a mental health condition or did not ask about mental health conditions. We obtained data on care-seeking attitudes for a mental health problem from a nationally representative convenience sample of 5829 physicians who completed a survey between August 28, 2014, and October 6, 2014. Analyses explored relationships between state of employment, MLAQs, and physicians' reluctance to seek formal medical care for treatment of a mental health condition because of concerns about repercussions to their medical licensure.

Results:

We obtained initial licensure applications from 51 of 51 (100%) and renewal applications from 48 of 51 (94.1%) medical licensing boards. Only one-third of states currently have MLAQs about mental health on their initial and renewal application forms that are considered consistent. Nearly 40% of physicians (2325 of 5829) reported that they would be reluctant to seek formal medical care for treatment of a mental health condition because of concerns about repercussions to their medical licensure. Physicians working in a state in which neither the initial nor the renewal application was consistent were more likely to be reluctant to seek help (odds ratio, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.07–1.37; P=.002 vs both applications consistent).

Conclusion:

Our findings support that MLAQs regarding mental health conditions present a barrier to physicians seeking help.

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