Are Sick Doctors Making You Sicker? The Surprising Truth About Your Next Checkup

Next time you’re feeling under the weather and decide to take a trip to the doctor’s office – beware! You may just catch something worse from your doctor. A survey from a 2010 Illinois medical meeting that was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reveals that doctors often show up to work when they’re sick. In fact, more than half of the 150 medical residents questioned said they worked despite having flu-like symptoms in the previous year. And around 25 percent said they had done so at least three times.

The Dangers of Sick Doctors

Dr. Deborah Grady, who writes about the study, says that it’s not about how sick these residents were, but rather their ability to potentially spread infections in the workplace. “Being afebrile is not a very specific test for lack of infectiveness,” she explains. “Working while sick may demonstrate an admirable sense of responsibility to patients and colleagues, but clinicians also need to worry about the real danger of infecting vulnerable patients as well as colleagues and staff.”

So, with the risk of spreading germs in the workplace, why would doctors take that chance? According to the survey, 56 percent of doctors said they did not want to let their patients down, and 57 percent didn’t want to burden their colleagues.

The Potential for Infection

Sick doctors have a high potential for infecting their patients, colleagues, and staff members. Patients with weakened immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions are especially vulnerable. The risk of infection can be substantially higher in hospitals, where patients are often in close quarters and sharing communal areas, such as waiting rooms or restrooms.

Steps Doctors Can Take to Minimize Risk

While it’s understandable that doctors are concerned about letting their patients down or overburdening their colleagues, it’s essential to prioritize the health and well-being of both their patients and themselves. Here are some steps doctors can take to minimize the risk of spreading infection:

  1. Practice good hygiene. This includes washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer, especially before and after touching a patient or their belongings.
  2. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This may include gloves, masks, and goggles, depending on the situation and level of exposure risk.
  3. Stay home when feeling sick. While it may be challenging for doctors to take time off, it’s crucial to avoid spreading illness in the workplace.
  4. Ensure proper workplace sanitation. Regularly disinfecting surfaces and objects within the workplace can help reduce the spread of germs.

What Patients Can Do to Protect Themselves

Patients should also be proactive in protecting themselves from potential infections when visiting a doctor’s office or hospital. Here are a few tips:

  1. Ask your doctor if they’re feeling well. While it may be an awkward conversation, it’s an essential one to have, especially if you’re immunocompromised or have an underlying health condition.
  2. Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer, especially after touching surfaces in public spaces.
  3. Wear a mask. It’s a simple yet effective measure to protect yourself and others from airborne viruses.
  4. Keep your distance. If possible, sit at least six feet away from other patients in waiting rooms to minimize close contact with potentially sick individuals.

The Bottom Line

While doctors may have good intentions when they come to work sick, the reality is that they could potentially be spreading illnesses to their patients, colleagues, and staff members. It’s essential for both doctors and patients to take precautionary measures to help reduce the risk of infection and maintain a clean and healthy environment.

Remember, it’s always best to consult with a trusted healthcare professional if you have concerns about your health or the health of a loved one. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and discuss any potential risks associated with receiving medical care from a health provider who may be feeling under the weather. Your health and safety are always the top priority.