Does your doc have the flu?

Many doctors-in-training have gone to work with flu symptoms, while ignoring the risks of passing on bugs to vulnerable patients, a new survey in the US shows.

By (— Reuters Health)

Published: Fri 22 Jun 2012, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 12:34 AM

Half of the 150 Illinois residents surveyed said they’d worked sick during the previous year, and one in six had done so at least three or more times.

Their excuse? A sense of obligation to their colleagues as well as their patients, explained Dr Anupam Jena, a senior resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the new research.

But it’s not clear whether that’s a worthwhile sacrifice, even if a given physician is more familiar with his or her patients. “They’re less productive and more likely to make errors,” Jena said. “And they can transmit the disease to somebody else.”

The survey, conducted in 2010 and published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is based on answers from Illinois residents only. But the rate of “presenteeism” matches findings from an earlier survey by Jena and colleagues done at hospitals across the country.

Although it’s unclear how many full-fledged doctors choose to drag themselves to work when they feel lousy, the pressure to do so might be even higher than among residents doctors.

“When residents fall sick, there are a large group of residents that can fill in,” said Jena. “When you are in private practice and you become sick, you don’t have a pool of physicians that you can draw on to cover for you.”

In a comment on the new report, journal editor Dr Deborah Grady wrote: “Working while sick may demonstrate an admirable sense of responsibility to patients and colleagues,” Grady wrote.

“But,” she added, “clinicians also need to start worrying about the real danger of infecting vulnerable patients as well as colleagues and staff.”

More news from