Specialists’ warning over CVD risk in ‘stressed out’ doctors

Public health

By Geir O'Rourke

24 Oct 2022

Australia’s doctors may be placing themselves at increased risk of stroke and heart attack because they are too busy caring for patients and neglect to monitor their own blood pressure, cardiologists say.

The warning follows an industry-sponsored survey of 301 GPs across Australia revealing 14% were self-monitoring their BP less than once per year.

Funded by Servier, the online poll conducted in June also found three quarters reported moderate-to-high levels of workplace stress, while nearly half were overweight.

In addition, 26% of respondents delivered a BP reading above 130/85, with many also recording a family history of CVD or diabetes.

Yet despite these figures, only 16% were checking their own BP twice a year as recommended, the company said.

While the data was limited to GPs, it was likely to be a similar story in other specialties including cardiology, said interventional cardiologist Dr Om Narayan from Monash Heart.

“Intuitively, from my own interactions with colleagues and other physicians, the impression is that many struggle to find the time to schedule in GP visits and finding a GP that can provide routine care can be exceedingly challenging (as cardiologists often work a seven day week),” he said.

“This issue is even more acute amongst physicians in rural or regional practice.”

Compounding this were cultural factors such as “invulnerability bias”, whereby specialists may feel they are somehow immune from the conditions they see in their patients, Dr Narayan said.

“Some may be fearful that a diagnosis of hypertension or other chronic disease could result in medical therapy that could impact their capacity to carry out their professional duties (e.g. antihypertensive and dizziness).”

“A particular problem amongst doctors is a tendency to self-diagnose medical conditions and to seek ‘corridor consultations’, resulting in poorly documented, fragmented and incomplete health assessments.”

Dr Sonali Gnanenthiran, a cardiologist and researcher at the George Institute in Sydney, added the stresses of specialty practice could be a contributor to CVD risk.

“Cardiologists often experience heavy workloads, long work hours, high acuity of clinical medicine and a challenging work-life balance – all of which can lead to a lower prioritisation of their own healthcare needs,” she said.

“A focus on clinician well-being is highly relevant not only in general practice but also in specialty medicine. The pandemic has allowed many clinicians at all stages of training to reflect and reset their goals in life.”

“Clinician wellbeing is an area that received little attention previously and such research highlights the very critical needs of society’s care givers.”

Nevertheless, the research identified some reasons for optimism, with about 90% of respondents reporting taking steps to improve their own health in the last year.

In particular, nearly half of those who reported high levels of workplace steps had made changes to manage their stress and 43% of those with overweight had made an effort to shed weight.

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