Is there a doctor in the (techies’) house?

In a lot of ways, Silicon Valley in recent years has become a veritable pressure cooker. With job growth soaring across a landscape awash in VC money, many of the valley’s tech companies large and small are now places of intense non-stop deadline-stress and competition, with employees working long hours, eating junk food on the run, and tempting all sorts of maladies in the process. And that stress doesn’t stop when you leave work: legions of new arrivals have turned Bay Area roadways into either parking lots or backdrops for road rage so that the commute to and from work is as stressful as the work itself.

Now comes Care-A-Van to the rescue. Serving more than a dozen of the valley’s biggest firms, including eBay, Juniper and Oracle, the 37-foot RV packing a portable clinic is the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s answer to this burgeoning if under-the-radar health crisis. According to a compelling feature in Fortune, this little hospital on wheels comes with two exam rooms and a laboratory, all thanks to the nonprofit PAMF.

Inside, the on-duty physician, Haleh Sheikholeslami, explains that she has had some dramatic encounters during two or so years on wheels. She has diagnosed a few heart attacks and recently dispatched an engineer complaining of chest pains to a hospital, where he immediately received four arterial stents. Mainly, though, the diagnoses are more routine, at least until you consider that the average age of her patients is under 40. She sees mental-health issues associated with chronic stress and anxiety, from rashes and irritable bowel syndrome to full-on depression. Many patients are deficient in vitamin D—in a climate that sees 260 days of sunshine per year—and have eye, back, and other muscular complaints related to repetitive motions and a lack of physical activity.

The crew aboard the Care-A-Van more often than not is dealing with things like high cholesterol and the health issues it can trigger, along with other heart conditions and high blood pressure. The Fortune piece shines light on a problem that hasn’t gotten much press around here. For example, health-care workers from PAMF say 40 percent of the techies they treat on-site at company headquarters and plants don’t even have a primary physician.

For some, that’s because they’re immigrants who haven’t bothered to navigate the U.S. health care system. Others just can’t break away from the workload. Some patients don’t even get off their mobile devices while being examined.
Ronesh Sinha, an internal-medicine physician and PAMF’s director of employer health services, enters the RV and picks up the thread. “You’d think when you go to companies that offer great health insurance, on-site gyms, and extensive wellness programs that you wouldn’t be seeing the issues we’re seeing,” he says. “But people are so freaking busy they can’t even imagine going out to the doctor.”

Doctors in the program blame a lot of the health issues they see on what the writer calls “a toxic cocktail of poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, and stress” that experts say “is causing an epidemic of advanced aging in Silicon Valley.”

And while the Care-A-Van makes it rounds, there’s an increasing awareness – albeit slowly – of larger health concerns facing not just the tech workers creating the tools we use but all of us who are using these tools in our daily lives. This incessant overuse of technology even has a name: the “Silicon Valley Syndrome,” coined by Lumo BodyTech, a company that makes wearable tech that alerts you if you’re not sitting up straight.

According to a post in Entrepreneur.com, “they surveyed more than 2,000 workers and found that 60 percent reported a myriad of health problems from overusing technology or sitting for several hours with poor posture.”

If that sounds like you, you might want to get up and walk around a little – and then tell your boss to give Care-A-Van a call.

Photo: Thinkstock

 

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