COVID-19 Highlights Physician Burnout, Mental Health Concerns in Healthcare
May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” and it couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. As the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world as we know it upside down, many people acknowledge feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, angry – the list goes on. To their credit, the media is publicly reporting the mental health impacts of the crisis, and people are talking about their feelings and experiences. Perhaps for the first time ever there is a degree of hyper-awareness of mental health issues, which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Healthcare workers are not immune to the mental health effects of the pandemic; quite the opposite. Right now things couldn’t be more stressful for them as they are pushed to their limits working long hours to treat critically ill patients in an environment under strain from multiple contributing factors — shrinking margins, decreasing workforce, limited resources and increased regulations. And COVID-19 comes on top of a well-documented “epidemic” of burnout among physicians. Entering 2020, nearly half of physicians surveyed by Medscape reported feeling burnt out; COVID-19 will only exacerbate those numbers.
As we continue to navigate COVID-19 and prepare for life after the pandemic, here are three ways to lighten the burden among healthcare workers and reduce physician burnout:
- Offer Support: A therapist writing in Psychology Today recently suggested that hospital leaders play an active role in creating an environment, and even activities, that might help clinicians alleviate stress. “Easy access to physical recreation, social supports, psychological and religious services would be a great start,” he said.
- Foster dialog: It is critical for healthcare workers to know they are not alone. Organizations can help employees feel connected and address provider stress through peer conversations. For example, according to Medscape, the Mayo Clinic has organized company-sponsored dinners for clinicians to talk shop and swap ideas for coping with the mounting strain of the job. While we are currently in quarantine, this could be replicated through virtual coffees or lunches.
- Optimize Technology: For years electronic health records (EHRs) have contributed to the physician burnout epidemic due to their convoluted clinical workflows and user interfaces. On any given day, for every hour a physician spends directly interacting with a patient, they spend two hours on administrative tasks and EHR data entry. In an ideal world, physicians would have one foundational system that they interact with, and all other applications would simply co-exist within that environment. An intuitive design with workflow-centric applications will get physicians out from behind their monitors and back to patients’ bedsides.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, nor are its mental health impacts. Healthcare workers need both personal and technical support from their organizations to help them get through this – and not just during Mental Health Awareness month.