Breaking Barriers: Our Hot Take on Massachusetts’ Bold Move to Prioritize Mental Health in Healthcare Credentialing

Fierce Healthcare reported recently that Massachusetts healthcare organizations announced that every hospital, health system, and local health plan in the state is removing “stigmatizing or invasive” mental health questions from physician credentialing processes — a first in the U.S. This move is one that has been championed by the American Medical Association (AMA), the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Academy of Medicine, and several other major groups who say it intimidates clinicians from seeking needed mental health support.

According to Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association Vice President of Clinical Integration Steven Defossez, M.D., “We will celebrate the impact that this effort will have, while knowing it is just one more step along the way to mitigate burnout and eliminate stigma from the healthcare profession. We hope that Massachusetts’ credentialing practices can serve as a model for healthcare systems across the nation.” Additionally, the National Committee for Quality Assurance no longer requires health plans to ask clinicians about prior drug use. 

As we know, the mental health of healthcare workers has been at the forefront of concern over the past few years. In fact, about three in 10 medical groups had a physician leave or retire early in 2023 due to burnout, according to a new MGMA Stat poll. Further, healthcare workers were more likely to report poor working conditions and more poor mental health days than other workers

The steps Massachusetts is taking by refining their credentialing process is progress, helping to remove certain barriers that often discourage physicians from seeking help for mental health needs. Ideally, this will encourage other states to follow suit. It also underscores that the healthcare sector needs to get better about recognizing and prioritizing the mental healthcare needs of providers and other healthcare workers. If we better supported healthcare workers in these highly stressful jobs, the language on a credentialing application as it relates to an individual’s mental health wouldn’t serve as a barrier but perhaps open up a dialogue. It’s time we allow clinicians to be fully human in their jobs, and better supporting them is a great start.

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