Will Doctors Be Able to Escape Random Drug Testing?

Leigh Page, MS


April 22, 2015

In This Article

Physicians Are Outliers From a Random-Testing Boom

Many doctors seem to believe that random testing for drugs and alcohol is a transitory phenomenon that could easily be undone. "Physicians are not athletes," one doctor said, referring to recent controversies over athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs.

In point of fact, random testing has been going on for more than 25 years. Millions of Americans are involved, and it's becoming more pervasive.

All active-duty military personnel must undergo a urinalysis at least once a year, and military labs test 60,000 urine samples per month. In addition, federal law signed by President Reagan requires random testing of persons who perform certain "safety-sensitive" jobs; these include commercial truck drivers, bus drivers, train conductors, and commercial pilots and their crews.

Under federal law, all organizations receiving government funds, including hospitals, must have a policy on dealing with employee drug abuse. However, these organizations are not required to test for drugs—except in the case of workers in the "safety-sensitive" occupations.

Even so, an increasing number of employers have been voluntarily adopting random testing. According to a 2011 survey[3] by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 47% of employers of all sizes indicated that they conduct random testing, compared with 39% in 2006.

Physicians, in contrast, have been virtually untouched by the phenomenon. No authority in the United States requires any healthcare personnel to be randomly tested for drugs or alcohol—not the federal government; any state; or accreditation agencies, including the Joint Commission.

Some hospitals are reportedly[4] randomly testing employees—including physicians—and even independent physicians on staff. But none of these hospitals has been identified in public reports. Some unnamed anesthesiology practices have also been performing random testing, but the only physician groups that have been publicly identified are the anesthesiology departments of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Cleveland Clinic.


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