Sick healthcare workers continue to care for patients

Despite the rising number of flu cases, a significant portion of healthcare workers refuse vaccinations and many go to work and care for patients even when they are sick themselves, according to Dallas/Fort Worth Healthcare Daily.

Approximately 80 percent of physicians will ignore their ailments and go to work, despite the known links between sick healthcare workers and patient illnesses, the newspaper reports, citing a 2010 study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine. But in most cases, the article said, employees who are under the weather don't do much at work, and that lack of productivity results in costs at least two to three times greater than direct healthcare expenses.

Experts say there are many reasons healthcare workers will drag themselves in to work when they are ill--a phenomenon known as "presenteeism." Some employees refuse to call in sick because they fear their supervisors will view them as less dedicated than other staff or they worry that their absence will make it harder for their colleagues to care for patients.

A 2013 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals nurses are especially vulnerable to this line of thinking. Nearly three out of four nurses will go to work with some level of pain, according to the study.  And the nurses who reported a high level of presenteeism were more likely to admit to higher rates of medication errors and a greater number of patient falls.

"This is part and parcel to their [professional] DNA," Daniel Varga, M.D., chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, told Dallas/Fort Worth Healthcare Daily.

And though Infection Control Today reports that many institutions require healthcare workers to get the flu shot or face termination, flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers are only at 72 percent, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Methodist Health System in Dallas is among the organizations that mandate employee flu shots, but vaccinations don't guarantee workers won't come down with the illness. As a result, the system relies on a supplemental labor pool during illness outbreaks--as long as sick employees stay home from work.

To learn more:
- read the article
- here's the study
- check out the CDC statistics
- see the Infection Control piece