Sick Australian doctors “prefer to heal themselves”

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 13 May 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1223

More than half of the doctors questioned for a recent survey in the Australian Medical Journal did not have their own general practitioner, even though one in four had a health condition requiring attention. The doctors said that they had felt inhibited about consulting another doctor.

The random survey of 2500 doctors in New South Wales (NSW) was conducted by the NSW Doctors' Health Advisory Service and NSW Health Department and had a response rate of 44%.

“Many respondents had inadequate access to medical services either because they did not have a general practitioner or because they felt unable to discuss their problems with another doctor,” say the researchers. “Many were prepared to treat themselves for serious illnesses or to selfmedicate with prescription-only medications.”

The survey found that 19% of respondents reported marital disturbances, 18% emotional disorders, 3% alcohol problems, and 1% drug misuse. But few had discussed these problems with a doctor.

The researchers say: “Doctors frequently experience emotional and physical problems and have higher rates of drug use, marital disturbance and suicide. It is likely these stress-related problems affect patient care but the extent to which they do has not been well researched.”

More than half of the female doctors (55%) self prescribed oral contraceptives; other treatments that were commonly self prescribed included replacement hormones, laxatives, appetite suppressants, cardiac drugs, migraine preparations, and insulin.

The report recommends that medical students should be taught about the stresses of their profession and how to treat colleagues. In addition, all doctors and their families need their own general practitioner, says the report. It recommends that “corridor consultations” should be avoided, as should self prescription of any drug that alters mental function.—CHRISTOPHER ZINN, Australian correspondent, Guardian

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