January 14, 2008

Alarm bell for doctors

It is no longer in the realm of mirth to wonder if doctors are healthy.

Here is scientific proof that doctors’ work and lifestyles take a huge toll on their health, rendering them candidates for a variety of complications.

A recent study conducted among doctors in seven States in the country seems to have rung the alarm bell for healthcare professionals. The results, published in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Association of Physicians of India (JAPI), indicates that young Indian physicians have a higher prevalence of hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance (pre-diabetic stage), abdominal adiposity (accumulation of fat) and excessive cholesterol than the general population they were compared with.

The study was conducted by the India Diabetes Research Foundation and Dr. A. Ramachandran’s Diabetes Hospitals here, among 2499 physicians aged 25 to 55 years from urban, semi-urban and rural areas, between 2004 and 2006. A total of 1878 men and 621 women, who had a minimum of five years of experience, an MBBS or MD degree, from towns in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka and New Delhi participated in the survey.

The control population, against whom the doctors were evaluated, comprised 3278 subjects of a similar age group and socio-economic status from the general populace, Dr. A. Ramachandran, one of the authors of the study, said.

The screening procedures included recording demography, medical history, smoking, alcohol habits, family history of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

“It has demonstrated the fact that physicians have a high risk of lifestyle diseases, though they have among the highest levels of awareness of such diseases and are probably treating their patients for the same,” he added.

Metabolic Syndrome, defined by central adiposity, cholesterol, blood sugar and high blood pressure, was more common among doctors. They had a significantly higher prevalence of all abnormalities except diabetes, compared with the general population.

An editorial in the same issue of JAPI by Amit K. Ghosh and Sashank R. Joshi quotes the study and indicate that it is time for physicians to take care of themselves.

“While lack of time, sedentary lifestyle and higher socio-economic status could explain the propensity for increased risk, many [a] physician could lack adequate health care … Physicians now [more] than ever face numerous challenges in balancing personal and professional lives.” They further add, “Altruistic tendencies could result in physicians putting their profession before their personal needs,” calling for a task force to educate and continuously monitor physician health and implement evidence-based strategies to reduce health risk in medical students and physicians.

Though it was long suspected and even proved by studies in developed countries such as Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom that doctors do not take good care of their own health, the findings of the Indian study, touted to be the first of its kind in the country, are in agreement with global findings.

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