Studies: Sick healthcare workers do more harm than good

Despite wanting to come to work at all costs to help patients and colleagues, two recent studies provide more proof that healthcare workers should avoid patient care when feeling sick, according to Medscape Today.

From November 2009 through April 2010, researchers collected bi-weekly nasal swab specimens from 159 physicians, nurses and ancillary staff of a tertiary care children's hospital and found working while ill was routine. Reinforcing the need to call in sick, healthcare workers with respiratory symptoms were associated with viral shedding, which can spread the infection, according to the study abstract.

Moreover, after the 20-week study period, 46 percent of healthcare workers said they continued to work while having an influenza-like illness during the prior flu season.

Meanwhile, another study looked at a severe respiratory illness outbreak at a 12-bed assisted-living facility in Colorado in 2012 in which six of the patients were residents and one patient was a staff member at the facility. The study indicated the staff member could have caused the outbreak, as the healthcare worker had the earliest onset of respiratory symptoms and worked while symptomatic, the abstract noted.

These studies highlight how perpetual healthcare worker presenteeism can risk patient and employee safety, and call for hospital infection control programs that encourage workers to stay home when sick, Medscape noted.

The healthcare industry lacks such worker support, accoring to previous research in the journal BMJ Open. An October 2012 study found doctors who take time off for ill health not only suffer from guilt and shame but also don't get support from peers once they return to work.

For more:
- here's the Medscape report
- check out the abstract on the children's hospital
- here's the abstract on the assisted-living facility