Almost all doctors admit to working while being sick

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I can’t say I am surprised by this article because even as a lawyer, I’ve gone to work with a cough, runny nose or something worse like a stomach bug.  I’ve done it, because I had to go to work and get something done whether it was a hearing or a deposition.  Was I thinking about getting others sick?  No, but I also don’t work in the health care setting where many patients immune systems are already compromised.

There is a new study shows that most health professionals go to work sick too, even though they know better than anyone that they shouldn’t.  Julia Szymczak at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and her colleagues surveyed 500 health care providers that had direct patient interaction.  Almost all of them agreed that working while sick put their patients at risk.  Even though they knew it was a risk, more than 83 percent admitted they’d done it at least once in the past year. That includes working with a fever, diarrhea and significant respiratory symptoms — not just a sore throat or the sniffles, the team reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics.

Dr. Jeffrey Starke, a pediatrician at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, admits he’s done it.  He told NBC News that when he saw the results, he thought all health care providers work when they are sick s. He did not see any ill will in working while sick, he saw it as something they do out of good will and dedication.  That’s what most of the health care professionals on the survey said. Nearly 99 percent said they worked sick because they did not want to let their colleagues down. Another 95 percent said there were not enough staffers to cover all the work, 92 percent didn’t want to let down their patients, and 64 percent worried their colleagues would think less of them if they called in sick.

One of the things the researchers found very surprising was how much their productivity was an issue.  Hospitals monitor physicians in hospitals heavily in terms of productivity.  For example, they are watching to see how many patients they see in a day.

Infection control experts have been urging Americans for years to stay home when they are sick. Depending on the germ, one sick person can infect several others. People can catch measles just from being in a room with a sick person .  So doctors, nurses and other people working in them should really know better. Why don’t they act like they do?

There is something called cognitive dissonance, when you know something but act contrary to it,” said Starke, who wrote an independent commentary on the research. “The problem is, we have competing interests. People in medicine have such dedication, devotion to their patients and their colleagues.”

But health care systems do not help, Starke said. Hospitals and group practices should make it easy to call in sick, Starke said — something that’s supported by infection control experts.

In the interim, we all should keep an eye out for sick professionals when they are getting treatment. This is especially true for the very vulnerable, such as the elderly and children getting cancer treatment.

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