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Feature Article

When your patient is a doctor

Narelle E Shadbolt

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Abstract

In a population of nearly 50,000 people (the number of doctors registered in Australia)
it would be remarkable if there were no crime, mental illness, addiction, physical illness or cause for concern about the competence of any member of that population. And yet, doctors always seem ill equipped to cope when a colleague becomes ill or needs help.

Key Points

  • Doctors are an at-risk population. They are more likely to be addicted to drugs, be alcoholic, suffer from burnout and depression and commit suicide.
  • Junior medical officers, rural practitioners and those working in solo practice are at even greater risk.
  • Fewer than 50% of doctors can identify their own general practitioner and of those who can, many are referring to their spouse or their practice partner.
  • Inappropriate self-reatment can delay the diagnosis of serious illness, and rarely identifies psychological problems such as depression and addiction.
  • Doctors contemplating the doctor–doctor consultation are often concerned about confidentiality, lack of confidence in the treating doctor, embarrassment and difficulties in knowing how to behave in the consultation.

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