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Presenteeism: When Doctors Don’t See Doctors

Business, Filing Disability Claims

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that presenteeism—working while sick—has reached epidemic proportions among doctors. The study found that three out of five residents had continued working while sick.  At one hospital, 100% of residents had done so.  Half the residents noted that they simply didn’t have the time to see a doctor.

In the medical field, presenteeism imposes particular costs. Patient quality of care can decline. If a physician suffers from a disability or illness or is distracted by his severe physical pain, he can make mistakes in judgment which lead to adverse patient outcomes. This habit, often begun in residency, can become a life-time affliction. Later in life, physicians may skip medical care for chronic conditions or injuries even when they are so severe that the physician would be considered legitimately disabled. They may attempt to continue performing physically and mentally demanding duties, aggravating their injury and risking patient help, even though they own an insurance policy that gives them the option to quit working.

Presenteeism may be a symptom of the medical and workplace culture in this country, where people often fear being thought of as weak if they call in sick. Physicians, as medical professionals, should be self-aware of these tendencies and should call in sick when appropriate and also not hesitate to file a disability insurance claim if needed. Dr. Vineet Arora, Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors, argues that “Hospitals need to build systems and create a workplace culture that enables all caregivers, not just residents, to feel comfortable calling in sick.  Their colleagues and their patients will thank them.”

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