H1N1 triggers hypochondriasis; doctors forced to work overtime

PANIC: People waiting to be screened for H1N1 at the  General Hospital in Jayanagar, Bangalore on Monday . DH PHOTO

 In fact, a large number of physicians themselves have started to adopt hitherto absent practices such as the use of masks while treating patients.

A scene outside the neighbourhood physician’s clinic these days is incomplete without a long queue of patients wearing protective face gear, otherwise known as triple layered or N95 masks.

As a consequence, a majority of general physicians operating out of ‘neighbourhood clinics’ have been forced to extend their consultation hours and even give precious lunch-breaks a miss.

A physician, who besides having a private practice consults at one of the leading hospitals in the City, says that even clearing the throat has generated panic. “Perfectly normal patients who otherwise would not bother to visit doctors are consulting experts,” he says.

Dr Karunesh Kumar, a private practitioner, explains that the main reason behind the sudden spurt and exaggerated health awareness is the ‘semi-health consciousness’.
“Patients who will normally buy crocin or other drugs over the counter are suddenly rushing to the doctor to seek expert advice,” he says. His practice alone has witnessed a 60 to 80 percent rise in the number of patients. “My lunch breaks and even my closing times have been stretched and delayed indefinitely over the past week,” he adds.

Meanwhile, another private practitioner says that although seeking expert advice is a healthy trend, the entire ‘swine flu episode’ has triggered a collective paranoia. “What would generally be considered a ticklish cough is generating paranoia and panic among the public. But this behaviour, typical of hypochondriacs, is not limited to patients alone. Even doctors are being extra cautious because of the extraordinary circumstances,” he says.

A pharmacist who operates in the vicinity of several clinics says that some of the doctors who he has known for years have suddenly begun to use masks while treating patients with the mildest of flu symptoms.

“Doctors and their assistants too are being careful and are wearing masks,” he says. He also adds that a majority of the prescriptions are mild dosages and over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol.

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