As the huge population of the world has already been infected from the Coronavirus, frontline fighters such as clinicians, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are significantly coming under an increasing level of risk to exposure. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has upended clinicians with a substantial sense of stress and higher risk for burnout in an increasingly burdened healthcare system.
In the current situation of the COVID-19, we are already seeing large numbers of clinicians and healthcare workers having to self-isolate or withdraw themselves from the frontline activities through infection or sheer tiredness and this is no doubt intensifying the already critical workforce shortages. On top of it, many other factors are contributing to burnout during this pandemic.
First let us understand what exactly is Physician /Clinician/ Healthcare worker burnout- It is defined as a work-related syndrome involving emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment during and after the work.
- It’s a long term emergency
Unlike natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, and floods requires to demonstrate the effectiveness of short-term emergency planning, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic demands long-term emergency planning with an extreme level of stress and risk. Providing care to those who are already infected needs continuous courage to fight against the risk of getting infected. Clinicians need to proactively protect their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being of themselves and their colleagues to avoid adverse outcomes of stress and burnout.
- Address the challenge of digital transformation
Clinical workflows have largely been developed to support and reinforce a face-to-face model of care, resulting in the crowd of patients in emergency departments and waiting areas during this crisis. To avoid such situations, healthcare organizations are putting technology in front line and clinicians in second. But the capacity of the outbreak has swamped clinicians under stress, since the number of calls from patients who want to speak to clinicians about possible symptoms for COVID-19 is increasing.
There are multiple tools that clinicians can bring in can to reduce burnout, one of them is Telemedicine technology. Telehealth gives a virtual meeting platform where clinicians can talk to COVID-19 patients without coming face to face. It can prevent the risk of infection and positively impact a clinicians’ daily workflow, so that it is no longer overwhelming to them and their colleagues.
- EHR hindering the flow of critical medical information.
Clinicians face exceptional challenges fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, and are using EHRswhich were designed to allow medical information about patients to be readily available to clinicians and healthcare workers across practices and wherever a person needs treatment. But due to COVID-19 outbreak, temporary medical centers have been developed away from the hospital premises. The list of location includes tents erected in parking lots, university dormitories and even entire conference centers. Where clinicians are not able to effectively use EHR. The failure of interoperability between the systems hinders the flow of critical medical information. Which turns out to be the ultimate burnout for the entire healthcare system.
- Non-supportive communication from the leadership
Everyone in the healthcare system is at risk, even the top leadership, but supportive work culture is vital to maintaining the resilience of clinicians during the COVID-19 crisis. The planning and execution in any healthcare system depends on the clear and honest communication from the leadership. Without clear instructions and honest communication from the organizational leaders, clinicians don’t feel the sense of their value and togetherness against the pandemic.
Top-level leaders must communicate supportive practices, clarify work hours, and provide sufficient resources and effective personal protective equipment to healthcare workers. Leaders should also aim to monitor clinician wellness and proactively address concerns related to the safety of clinicians and their families.
- Losing mental health support
During the time of crisis, Clinicians & health care workers look strong and resilient in the face, but in reality, they are under constant burnout, their calm surface appearance is the only armor they are left with. Underneath it, they are anxious and afraid. The fear and stress don’t let them sleep and they find themselves crying more than usual. They continuously think for their family members and stays away from them to keep them safe.
To support health care workers, experts need to intervene to help protect their mental health, not just their physical health. Health systems and clinicians mustn’t lose sight of mental health support. Otherwise there are high rates of issues, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress, which are much higher in nurses, women, and those on the front line.
- Increased number of working hours
The outbreak is getting worse with time, health care workers spend a lot of time up close with the patient, higher the time – higher the risk activities. Working for long and multiple shifts without breaks obstructs physical resilience and adequate sleeping hours, which lowers the concentration and disable them to maintain personal well-being and resilience.
To avoid such burnout situation organization leaders should design work schedules for clinicians and take initiatives to provide them with basic provisions during work hours, such as easy access to water, healthy snacks, chargers for phones and other devices, and toiletries.
Clinicians and healthcare worker are also one of us, they also have families waiting for them to come back home. This is for sure the heroism, dedication and selflessness of them towards their job and society.
COVID-19 can thus be viewed as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can, and will no doubt worsen a difficult situation for the healthcare workforce. Burnout will likely become even more, unless we don’t take remedial action. We need to do this with speed, as otherwise the diminished ranks of people in the front line will be stripped.