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June 9, 2015

Impaired Physicians and the ADA

Author Affiliations
  • 1Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
JAMA. 2015;313(22):2219-2220. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.4602

The year 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),1 which prohibits disability-based discrimination and requires reasonable accommodation in employment, public accommodations, and public services. Many physicians, however, have been protected from disability-based discrimination since 1973 under the Rehabilitation Act,2 which has comparable provisions but less comprehensive coverage and remedies for physicians. This Viewpoint explores disability discrimination law in the context of impaired physicians. Although the term “impaired physician” is often used to refer to a disability from psychiatric illness, alcoholism, or drug dependence, the legal definition based on the ADA is much broader and includes the full range of physical, mental, and behavioral limitations. Because there have been relatively few cases involving physicians, instructive cases involving nurses and other health professionals also will be discussed.