"And even if you help just one surgeon in terms of this identification, you've done a good thing," he added. "I don't think patients and their families need to be alarmed. But the reality is that the more we talk about it, the greater the chances of recognizing the factors and stressors that contribute to it among those who need help."
In an editorial also accompanying the study, Dr. Edward Livingston, a professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, re-emphasized the reservations with survey accuracy addressed by the study authors.
"You really can't interpret too much from this," Livingston said. "The response rate was just really, really low. Most statisticians agree that out of 100 surveys you have to have 60 or more responses for the findings to be reliable. That's 60 percent. And here you have a 29 percent response. Which is understandable, since the ramifications are so great for a physician who is found to have a drinking problem," he pointed out.
"In fact," Livingston added, "one possibility is that the problem is even greater than they've found. So what we might have here is really an underreporting of the situation."
For more on alcohol abuse, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Michael R. Oreskovich, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of Washington, Seattle; Edward H. Livingston, M.D., professor of surgery, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and contributing editor, JAMA; John A. Fromson, M.D., co-director of post-graduate medical education, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and assi
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