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Third of doctors don't practice what they preach

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2001 - Spring


Public health experts decry health care conditions that result in 20 percent of the American population not getting routine examinations, preventive inoculations and screenings. They often cite barriers to entry into the health care system, such as lower economic status, language difficulties and lack of education. A study of physicians directed by a Yale investigator came up with the surprising result that doctors seem even less likely than the rest of the population to have a regular source of care (RSOC) such as a primary physician.

The study was done while Assistant Professor of Medicine Cary P. Gross, M.D., was a fellow at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Of 915 physicians who graduated from Hopkins between 1948 and 1964, some 35 percent had no RSOC during a seven-year survey period. While doctors may have other sources of care, those without an RSOC were much less likely to get cancer screening or an influenza vaccine.

Gross speculates that doctors don’t go to doctors because of what he terms a “fallacious” belief in their capacity for self-care combined with the time demands of their medical careers. As is true of those who do not seek preventive care, he found that these physicians often also exhibit a “fatalistic” attitude, attributing health outcomes to chance. Gross says of the findings, which appeared in November in the Archives of Internal Medicine, “You have to wonder why we’re not heeding our own advice.” He does not know whether Yale graduates are more or less likely than other physicians to go to the doctor.

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