Presenteeism & Sick Doctors: Does This Lead to More Sick People?

We’ve discussed the issues involved with “presenteeism” and how it can affect disability insurance claims, but it’s making waves in other news regarding healthcare workers and their patients. Healthcare workers are going to work sick, and while it is admirable to be dedicated to your job, it creates a huge risk to those with already compromised immune systems. Since healthcare workers are entrusted with the duty of caring for high risk patients, it’s important that we take care of our healthcare workers as well. However, that seems to not be the case, as in the medical field it is seen as weak to take days off, and sometimes taking more than two sick days is rewarded with an extra week of work for residents.

Here are some statistics that highlight this phenomenon:

95.3% of 504 physicians believed that working while sick put patients at risk. ((

83.1% of the 504, however, worked sick at least 1 time in the past year.

98.7% didn’t want to let colleagues down, and 64% feared being shunned by colleagues.

80% of a random sampling of 1,033 Norwegian physicians reported working even though they had symptoms that in a patient would be considered “sickness”. ((

However, it’s imperative that we don’t blame healthcare workers, but instead society and its approach to doctors’ and dentists’ sickness as a whole. It doesn’t seem to make sense that we place such a heavy emphasis on coming to work no matter what when lives are at stake. While it would seem to be common knowledge that placing an already compromised immune system in jeopardy would be a bad idea, the medical community’s desire to work through diseases is contradictory to this, and perhaps it’s time to change the culture.

Physicians, what do you think about “presenteeism”, and how do you think we can change the culture surrounding it? Tell us in the comments.

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