(NaturalNews) It may sound a little strange, but sometimes going to the doctor can worsen your health.
To wit: A new survey revealed that numerous medical students and residents went to work with flu-like symptoms, potentially spreading contagious bacteria to their patients and others they came in contact with.
The research, led by Dr. Anupam Jena, a senior resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, found that half of 150 Illinois resident physicians said they had gone to work sick over the previous year. One in six reported to work three or more times, the survey found.
That may be good for repeat business, but in health terms, it's a terrible idea.
The excuse these physicians-in-training gave is that they felt an obligation to colleagues and patients, Jena explained.
But it's far from clear whether such a noble gesture is a smart gesture, even if a given doctor is more familiar with his or her patient, Reuters Health reported.
"They're less productive and more likely to make errors," Jena said. "And they can transmit the disease to somebody else."
Heavy requirements, long hours mean med students can't miss much time
Only last year, for instance, a doctor who came to work sick was responsible for launching a small outbreak of norovirus at Massachusetts General, where Jena works. Several staff and resident physicians wound up with diarrhea and the unit affected was forced to reduce staff for several days.
As a result, Mass General implemented rules to keep healthcare workers from reporting to work if they are contagious, as have other hospitals.
"The main question is whether those policies are being enforced," Jena told Reuters Health.
It's a worthwhile question. Anyone who has ever been to med school or around a med school knows that physicians in training are more often than not treated like rented mules. Their workloads are incredible; besides attending classes and studying for exams, they must put in 10-12 hours a day in some programs taking care of patients doing clinical rotations - where they actually learn their craft.
Jena's survey, which was conducted in this year and recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is based solely on the Illinois survey. However, the "presenteeism" (working while sick) rate is similar to an earlier survey done by Jena and colleagues at hospitals around the country.
"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."
Dr. Deborah Grady, the journal's editor, in commenting on the new report, described a recent meeting with a resident of hers. She said while he was usually energetic and happy, he looked "as if he had lost his last friend."
She said he had diagnosed himself with an upper respiratory infection but still chose to go into work though feeling "terrible."
"Working while sick may demonstrate an admirable sense of responsibility to patients and colleagues," she wrote, "but clinicians also need to worry about the real danger of infecting vulnerable patients as well as colleagues and staff."
Forced to work while sick - sort of
Hospital officials may outwardly feel that way, but if you ask most healthcare employees, they're likely to tell you that there is a stigma about calling in sick, simply because they know if they don't come in to work - sick or not - there might not be enough staff to take care of patients.
CareerBuilder.com reported in November 2010 that food service workers and nurses were often forced to work while sick. The jobs website reported that many hospitals that require nurses to call in sick when they are ill also have policies requiring them to be written up if they do call in - a classic Catch 22.
In addition, the Kansas City Star reported in the summer of 2010 that the American Medical Association "published the findings of a survey of 537 medical residents from around the country, in which 57 percent of residents said they had worked while sick," said the report.