Doctors pop more pills than their patients

Two in three doctors take medicines "frequently" Keystone

Primary care doctors in Switzerland take more medicines on average than much of the rest of the population, a study says.

This content was published on March 15, 2007 - 21:49

Physicians are also ignoring recommendations to avoid self-treatment and self-medication.

Published in the Swiss Medical Weekly (SMW), the findings showed that 65 per cent of Swiss doctors had taken some form of pharmaceutical drug the week before the survey. This was described as "frequent" use by the report's authors.

The figure for the population in general, aged between 35 and 70, stood at 43 per cent, according to the 2002 Swiss Health Survey.

The drugs listed in a survey of more than 1,700 doctors included mainly painkillers, tranquillisers, antidepressants and anti hypertension pills.

"There is no causal link why doctors are taking so many [pharmaceutical] drugs and not seeking help from other doctors," Patrick Bovier, the doctor from Geneva University Hospital who led the research, told swissinfo.

"It is difficult to say whether they are right or wrong [to take them] because you can either think that more doctors are getting sicker or they are treating themselves more effectively."


The report noted that psychological stress caused by an increasingly complex health system and easy access to medicines contributed to the situation.

Bovier said although statistics showed that doctors took more painkillers than the rest of the population, the figures would be similar or higher if a comparison were made with people in a similar position of responsibility.

He dismissed the idea that some doctors were dependent on drugs: "To say they are addicted is a bit exaggerated."

The study also found that doctors were paying scant attention to recommendations by experts to avoid self-treatment and self-medication, even for serious ailments.

"Self-medication was reported in 90 per cent of cases," the SMW report said. The report said doctors were prone to self-medication even for chronic illnesses such as depression and hypertension.

Family doctor

Only 21 per cent of respondents to the survey said they had a family doctor, considerably lower than the 90 per cent for the rest of the population.

Doctors themselves went to a doctor 1.9 times a year on average, compared with 3.2 visits a year by the public.

The report noted that doctors usually felt they had the necessary competence and knowledge to take care of their own health problems.

However, experts recommend against self-treatment as doctors "lack the necessary distance to make optimal decisions, particularly regarding mental health", the study said.


Key facts

Comparison of doctors surveyed and public taking medication:

Painkillers: 34% (doctors) / 15% (public)
Tranquillisers: 14% / 8%
Antidepressants: 6% / not available
Antihypertension medication: 13% / 13%

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In brief

1,784 doctors participated in the survey, which was conducted in 2002.

Bovier said the survey originally concentrated on doctors' burnout but sufficient data had been available to compile a second study, which had taken time to complete.

The majority of respondents were men and in solo practice (63 per cent), and the average age was 51. Just under half were general practitioners.

73% of those taking part came from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, 24% from the French part and 3% from the Italian part.

67% per cent had families, while 7 per cent lived alone. On average they worked 51 hours a week and three-quarters of their time was dedicated to consultations with patients – totalling 112 a week.

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