Licensing and credentialing bodies’ inquiry of physician mental health

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The Joint Commission and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) require that medical licensing boards, credentialing bodies and professional liability insurance carriers ask applicants about any past history of mental illness or substance use disorder on licensure, credentialing and other applications.

Physician mental health inquiry

Does The Joint Commission and the FSMB require that licensing and credentialing organizations ask probing questions about clinicians’ past mental health?

Neither The Joint Commission nor the FSMB require that licensing and credentialing organizations such as state licensure, physician credentialing services and professional liability insurance carriers ask probing questions about clinicians’ past mental health, addiction or substance use history on licensure and credentialing applications. Rather, they strongly encourage them to refrain from including these types of questions when collecting professional information from clinicians for credentialing, privileging or other purposes.1

Despite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that asking questions about mental health, addiction or substance use history on licensing and other applications deters physicians from seeking care, several state medical license applications and credentialing applications continue to ask these questions.2,3

For state medical boards that prefer to include questions that address physicians’ mental health to elicit information intended to protect patients, the FSMB advises that they do so in ways that (1) limit inquiries to current impairments and (2) don’t discourage physicians from seeking out treatment.1,4 Further, the FSMB recommends that these organizations avoid public disclosure of a physician’s diagnosis and offer non-reporting options to physicians who are receiving treatment and in good standing with a recognized physician health program (PHP) or other appropriate health care professional.4

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  1. The Joint Commission. The Joint Commission Statement on Health Care Worker Mental Health. The Joint Commission. Published 2021. Accessed November 15, 2022.
  2. Saddawi-Konefka D, Brown A, Eisenhart I, Hicks K. Consistency Between State Medical License Applications and Recommendations Regarding Physician Mental Health. JAMA Network. 2021;325(19). Accessed November 15, 2022.
  3. Dyrbye LN, West CP, Sinsky CA, Goeders LE, Satele DV, Shanafelt TD. Medical Licensure Questions and Physician Reluctance to Seek Care for Mental Health Conditions - Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2017;92(10):1486-1493. Accessed November 15, 2022.
  4. Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). Physician Wellness and Burnout: Report and Recommendations of the Workgroup on Physician Wellness and Burnout.; 2018. Accessed December 8, 2022.

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Disclaimer: The AMA's Debunking Regulatory Myths (DRM) series is intended to convey general information only, based on guidance issued by applicable regulatory agencies, and not to provide legal advice or opinions. The contents within DRM should not be construed as, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. An attorney should be contacted for advice on specific legal issues.

Page last reviewed in December 2022.