A new survey has revealed that many doctors, midwives, nurses and other health professionals still go to work when they are sick regardless that they are aware they can put their patients at risk.
For the new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, Julia Szymczak, from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted a survey involving 500 healthcare providers.
Many of these healthcare service providers do not call in sick for reason that they do not want to let down their colleagues and patients by taking a sick day. They are also concerned about finding somebody to cover their absence.
They found that while 95 percent of the participants knew that working while they are sick poses risks to their patients, more than 83 percent have said that they still showed up at work at least once in the past year regardless that they were suffering from diarrhea, fever or significant respiratory symptoms.
The researchers also found that healthcare workers have difficulty finding somebody to work in their place when they are sick and that doctors were more likely to work while sick compared with nurses or physicians assistants. Szymczak and colleagues likewise found that there is a strong cultural norm among healthcare service providers to report to work unless they are extraordinarily sick.
"Attending physicians and APCs frequently work while sick despite recognizing that this choice puts patients at risk. The decision to work sick is shaped by systems-level and sociocultural factors. Multimodal interventions are needed to reduce the frequency of this behavior," the researchers wrote in their study.
Unfortunately, experts said that sick healthcare workers pose real threats to patients particularly those who are immunocompromised such as transplant patients and those suffering from cancer.
"Most of us have policies restricting visitation by visitors who are ill, we screen them for signs or symptoms," said Jeffrey Starke, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Yet we don't do the same thing for ourselves."
Besides the possibility of spreading illness, sick doctors are likely to perform worse on the job compared with their healthy counterparts. Still, many hospitals lack specific policies that restrict sick healthcare workers. Starke said that having such policies may address the problem.
Starke advised patients to watch out for sick healthcare professionals when they are being treated particularly if their condition makes them vulnerable to catching illness.
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