Saturday, May 12, 2012

Medicine is not an exact science

AS A doctor working in primary health care, I sympathise with employers who worry that allowing an honour system of sick leave would result in a runaway rate of absenteeism ('Honour system won't work, say bosses and HR experts'; May 1).
One reason employers prefer employees to consult a doctor, even for minor illnesses, is the belief that only doctors are able to tell if someone is sick.
Medicine is not an exact science. Everyone knows that if an employee is determined to get a medical certificate by feigning a headache or mild common cold, he is likely to get one. There is no blood test or X-ray that can be quickly done to confirm these.
The point is that a doctor cannot always exclude minor illness in a patient with no obvious signs. Hence, most of the time, we give patients the benefit of the doubt and issue medical certificates for them to rest, and advise them to come back for a review if their symptoms worsen.
Such patients may not have seen a doctor if they did not need the certification.
Imagine how much shorter the queues at polyclinics and accident and emergency departments would be if such patients could just call in sick and stay at home.
Patients with serious illnesses or a genuine need for a consultation would benefit by being seen earlier by the doctor.
Dr Anandan Gerard Thiagarajah