Drug Testing in the Healthcare Industry

Healthcare organizations that successfully address substance abuse disorders among team members reduce the risk of poor patient care, errors, accidents, and theft.

When healthcare workers have a substance use disorder (SUD), they sometimes use pharmaceuticals from the institution where they work. If the employee senses that co-workers are suspicious about their behaviour or substance use, they may transfer to a different department. Most institutions do not drug test employees who are transferring between departments. As the substance use problem worsens it becomes harder to hide. Soon another transfer is necessary. Eventually, moving is no longer supported or feasible, the worker must look for a job at a different institution.

Desperate for qualified healthcare workers, the troubled employee is actively recruited and may even receive a signing bonus! The reference check reveals the dates of employment but little else. The prospective employee is instructed to take their physical and pre-employment test at least a week before their start date, which may provide enough time for the individual to conceal their drug use. The person starts the new job, and the cycle begins again.

How can Healthcare Institutions help to stop the cycle?

  • In the job application, notify all applicants that a drug test must be completed within 12 or 24 hours of the offer of employment
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive policy that addresses as many of the concerns as possible (positive results for prescribed drugs)
  • At the time of the offer, remind the candidate of the requirement to test.
  • Provide an 800 number or website they can visit to find the collection site that is convenient for them
  • Use a medical professional testing panel, not the typical five or ten drug testing panel.
  • A Medical Review Officer (MRO) must review all non-negative results Refer candidates with non-negative results to the appropriate helping resource and let them know when and if they may reapply
  • Confirm start dates and pre-start requirements

In a time when the priority is rapid recruitment, these changes may seem daunting. However, “raising the threshold” for entry to your institution is one of the ways to protect current employees and patients.

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