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History of PHS

More than 20 years ago, a group of physicians got together on an ad hoc basis to offer support to colleagues in crisis. In response to what was viewed as a critical need, this ad hoc group formed the Impaired Physician’s Committee. Its charter was to address physician health issues. More specifically, the Committee sought to help prevent problems, identify colleagues in trouble, refer them for treatment, and monitor their recovery.

Before long, there were 30 members of this free-standing committee of the Massachusetts Medical Society -- all of them volunteers. In the mid-1980s, the committee changed its name and became the Physician Health Committee. In part, this move was made because doctors who got help from the committee -- and recovered -- could no longer be considered “impaired,” although they continued to be involved on a follow-up basis with counseling, support groups, or other activities. In addition, despite problems of substance use and addiction, only a small fraction of physicians were actually professionally impaired, as this is usually the last area in one’s life that is affected by this illness.

The increasing number of referrals and the demand for more sophisticated monitoring resulted in the Society’s development of these services in the early 90s. In 1993, Physician Health Services (PHS) was incorporated as a nonprofit subsidiary of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Since then, PHS has been able to receive charitable contributions. When all the major malpractice carriers and the captive insurers agreed to provide level funding to support PHS, a full time staff was hired and services were enhanced. At the same time, the Medical Society sponsored legislation, which was later signed into law, conferring peer-review protection on the work PHS does. This is important because it now means we can assure confidentiality to anyone who comes to PHS for help.

Since then, the number of referrals to PHS has increased to the point where we now have a staff that includes a director, a director of operations, an attorney, five associate directors who are based in various locations across Massachusetts, and three administrative staff. All outreach, education, support, and monitoring services are available throughout the state.

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