Sick doctors often keep working

Despite the risks posed to both patients and colleagues, roughly 60 percent of residents surveyed throughout the nation said they had reported to work while sick at least once during the 2008-09 academic year. This finding came from a recent study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The practice--known as presenteeism--is one that seems to be a double-edged sword in the medical profession, according to study co-author Dr. Anupam B. Jena, a resident in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. If residents call in sick, he points out, their motives are questioned, while those who come to work sick are thought to be using poor judgment. 

"The real issue is what is best for patient care," Jena said, according to a press release. "Is a doctor who knows the patient, but is not at his best, as good or better than a healthy but unfamiliar physician? And how often does presenteeism in medicine occur?" 

A total of 774 residents were surveyed overall, with 537 at 12 hospitals nationwide responding. At one of those facilities, 100 percent of residents admitted to having reported to work while sick at least once. 

What's more, the majority of respondents (53 percent) said they didn't have enough time to get themselves to a doctor, a trend Dr. Vineet Arora, another co-author, as well as an associate professor of medicine and associate director of the internal medicine residency program at the University of Chicago, would like to see reversed. 

"Hospitals need to build systems and create a workplace culture that enables all caregivers, not just residents, to feel comfortable calling in sick," Arora said. "Their colleagues and their patients will thank them." 

To learn more:
- read this press release
- here's the JAMA piece (registration required)
- check out this Los Angeles Times blog post