There is a growing body of evidence which shows that doctors face unique barriers to accessing health care and often do not have a regular treating doctor, and are at greater risk of mental health issues and substance use problems. The Doctor’s Health Advisory Service Western Australia (DHASWA) is experienced in the unique health needs of doctors, and has important skills in the area of doctor-patient care.
As a group, doctors generally have a greater than average level of physical health than the general population and are less likely so suffer from life-style related illnesses (Australian Medical Association (AMA), 2011). However, doctors also experience a higher level of psychological distress, similar or higher rates of mental illnesses (including depression and anxiety) and a higher likelihood of suicidal ideation than the general population and other professionals (3.4% vs. 2.6% vs. 0.7%, respectively) (Beyondblue, 2013, p2-4).
Research has shown that only 30-40% of doctors have their own general practitioner (Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP), 2013). Doctors who do not have their own GP are likely to self- diagnose, self-treat and self-prescribe (RACP, 2013) and may seek informal professional input from a colleague, rather than a proper consultation with a treating doctor (RACP, 2013). These practices, as well as failure to connect with other appropriate health professionals or services can lead to poorer health outcomes in this group (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), 2011).
The reasons for doctors not accessing appropriate health care are varied, and include: concerns of stigma and lack of confidentiality; fear regarding mandatory notification; damage to career progression; embarrassment, and constraints on time and access (AMA, 2011).
It has been suggested that while doctors may struggle to be seen as a ‘patient’, they also have difficulty treating other doctors as patients (RACP, 2013). However, research has shown that doctors who practice healthy lifestyle habits are more likely to effectively teach healthy habits to their patients (AMA, 2011) which may also include other doctors!
It is important that doctors are encouraged to have their own treating doctor, to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, and doctor-patients need to be treated in the same way as any other patient by their treating medical professional (RACGP, 2016). This allows doctor-patients to feel validated in seeking health care, and ensures that receive all the information they need to be active participants in their care.
There is growing understanding that a specific skill set can be taught to help doctors treat other doctors more effectively (RACP, 2013) and an acknowledgement that professional medical culture needs to support the care of doctor-patients without judgement.
DHASWA is committed to providing patient centred care suitable to doctor-patients, and all DHASWA doctors are experienced in the care of doctor-patients. For more information or to speak to one of our doctors, visit our Contact Us page