Should doctors be claiming more Workcover?!

So, a very long time since my last post. I’d reference my regular readers like Gerry over at ruralflyingdoc and apologise for the silence, but I’m not convinced there are any regulars out there anymore! A short one today, and a slight change in my normal tone and content.

Whilst some of this time has been spent filling my brain in preparation for the RACGP Fellowship Exams coming up on August 10th, I’ve also copped an unfortunate number of URTIs this year. In fact, I’ve burned through more than my available sick leave this year with a procession of viral maladies. (Those of you who were at GPRA’s BNL Conference at Parliament House in March may recall my husky, laryngitic tones) In all of these instances, I came down with clinical syndromes identical to the ones I’d been seeing en masse during my work as a GP. In fact, I can’t remember a single day off as a doctor when I haven’t had an illness that I’ve seen almost exclusively in patients rather than social contacts. Like many health professionals, I’ve enjoyed respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, and impetigo in my professional pursuits.

Right now, my better half is missing her first few days in a brand new job. In the last couple of weeks she’s seen a procession of kiddies with hand, foot and mouth syndrome typical of Coxsackie and other echoviruses. We’ve got no kids (unwell or otherwise) ourselves, nor have we had any social contact with anyone unwell. With typical mouth and hand infectious lesions, she’s out for possibly the whole week.


Can you see where I’m going here?


Of course, this is being taken as sick leave. I’d hazard that most health care professionals do the same.  But should it really be considered a work-related illness? If not for work, I can’t imagine the majority of these illnesses having existed. For all the self-insured GPs working as independent practitioners out there, rather than employees, this is a big issue – a day not at work means a day of lost income. In this regard, I’m lucky to be salaried.

Think about a different scenario – if a surgeon sustained a needlestick injury during an operation on a patient with Hepatitis C and contracted this infectious illness, it would be, without a doubt, considered a work cover issue. So what is different about other infectious agents? Is it too much red tape and bother for a short illness? Is there stigma associated with claiming Workcover? Or is there a line somewhere that defines when an illness like this moves from the everyday and accepted, to a work-related malady?

Compo, I say! Would love to hear your thoughts.


16 responses to “Should doctors be claiming more Workcover?!

  1. Yeah, good luck with that!

    Proving it happened at work as opposed to the checkout queue at BigW might be tricky

    When I was a paeds reg (many many moons ago) I was crook as a dog for first three months – then was impervious to ALL illness. Malaria? Nah, had that. D&V? No more. Ebola? well maybe..

    Anyhw, once out in private practice there is no workcover. Even those of us doing work on contract to rural hospitals dont get workcover – which annoys the crap out of me as often working conditions are unsafe (scrunched back trying to manage airway in ward, poor bed design etc etc)

    • When I think about all the Workcover claims I’ve treated with questionable causality that get approved anyway, I reckon doctors and simple infections are a shoe-in!

      A colleague told me of a case where a teacher caught Ross River Virus, had a (clinically questionable) 12month+ illness of fatigue/malaise, blamed it on a mosquito bite that happen whilst on a school camp, and got a long term claim approved…. Geez!

  2. Nice post Dave. I can echo your woes about work-contracted illness, having had at least as many URTIs as months worked in Clare so far. Very frustrating. However there is a fine line between Workcover compensable illness/injury and plain old head colds. I don’t really think that Workcover was intended to be used to insure GPs from the inevitable coughs and colds we will contract in the highest concentration in our first few years in the workplace. I am strongly hoping I have built up an immunity to some of the more common viruses in my region by now though, because I was beginning to think I must have a fairly poorly immune system otherwise! Hope your immune system is building up the memory too!

  3. Great post!
    Doctors definitely under-report work-related illness. Many suffer back problems (like Tim) from using poorly designed equipment and work-spaces, but also from lack of training. The amount of times I see doctors bent at the waist over a low ED trolley while siting an IV instead of grabbing a chair, helping to lift heavy patients with poor technique, and doing procedures like suturing whilst hunched over a bed is alarming. Never mind the complete and utter lack of reporting of harm, both physical and psychological that happens from dealing with violent and aggressive patients in ED.
    If that Telstra employee that slipped down her stairs because she was wearing socks whilst working from home, injuring her ankle, can claim that her employer “failed to provide a safe workplace” (true story) and can claim Workcover, surely we can too.
    I’m sure it’s the same with GP’s, but in the public hospital system, even calling in sick for one shift is seen as a sign of weakness, and there is also tremendous pressure and guilt placed on junior doctors to not leave gaps in the already paper-thin staff cover on the wards.
    Having worked intermittently outside the health system, I can say for a fact that doctors have no idea what reasonable work conditions are, the vast majority don’t even read their contracts, know their entitlements under the AMA HMO Certified Agreement, and a lot don’t even read their payslips to know if they’re being paid properly. Claiming Workcover for an illness or injury contracted at work would be whole level of complexity above this, and even thinking of it, let alone going through the motions would be beyond most doctors.

  4. Haha good try Dave! Great post.

    Not sure your supervisor will take on another registrar if you manage to claim workers comp based on a common cold. After paying super, payroll tax and various other benefits, a WC Claim for common infectious diseases may not be the best incentive to teach…

    But regardless, infections that may arise from workplace exposure, but that could also just as easily arise from non-workplace exposure, would usually not be considered work-related infections. Claims for the common cold have never been accepted as far as I know.

    Before you put in a claim read the report “Work-related infectious and parasitic diseases Australia” from the Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Unless you have contracted hepatitis, HIV, TB, anthrax, scabies etc (don’t worry we don’t need to know the details) I don’t give you much chance – but keep us informed 🙂

    PS I went through the same when I was a registrar – it does get better!

  5. I know of two previous registrars who “dared” to put in WC claims. One was for a scaphoid fracture web sustained from falling over in the muddy, steep, unlit doctors’ carpark in the dark, the other was for getting a particularly nasty case of varicella, landing the registrar in hospital. First was approved. Second wasn’t (said she should have been vaccinated). In both cases the supervisors involved were incredulous and livid!

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