Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Out-Of-State Physician Licensing

During Hurricane Katrina, I called our local Red Cross chapter to offer my services in Louisiana. I attended their training course to do just that but was then told that I wouldn't be able to volunteer as a physician. Louisiana was unwilling to temporarily grant licensing reciprocity to out-of-state doctors even though it had experienced a massive disaster.

Any such physician assisting there would be practicing without a license and I surely don't need to review the medicolegal implications of that. Their state legislature is obviously filled with a group of rocket scientists!

I instead opted to be placed on a list of physicians willing to respond to in-state disasters (California in case you missed the title of this blog).

An interesting letter was published in the latest issue of JAMA. Lori A. Boyajian-O'Neill et. al. surveyed each state in the U.S. to find out what their policies were regarding the licensing of physicians in the event of a disaster. The chart they compiled lists three possibilities: an "expedited" licensing procedure, waiver of licensing altogether in the event the physician has a license in another state (reciprocity), or my favorite -- none.

Louisiana belongs to the expedited procedure group. During Katrina, their governor wrote an executive order suspending the usual licensing procedures. Apparently this wasn't in place at the time I considered going with the Red Cross (who would only send docs with a valid Louisiana license).

I was surprised to see that 18 states opted for no emergency licensing at all. Talk about protecting your turf!

Maybe every states' lawmakers should be reviewing their own laws. To me, emergency reciprocity seems like the way to go. For most state medical boards, a physician's licensing status can be checked reliably and instantly on the internet. Why wouldn't a state want a physician in good standing in his home state to volunteer in the event of an emergency?



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