Healthcare Workers Need Our Support
Sina Chehrazi, CEO and cofounder of Nayya.
Few have felt the force of the pandemic pressure cooker as acutely and persistently as healthcare workers, many of whom have toiled around the clock to provide care at unprecedented volumes.
But as the pandemic seems to become the “new normal,” it is easier to overlook the ongoing difficulties healthcare workers face: Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, 54% of doctors and nurses were experiencing burnout. But Covid-19 has brought many to the brink, as these frontline workers continue to confront newfound pressures, staffing shortages and record levels of fatigue.
To address these issues, it is paramount that institutions, from governments to businesses, rise to the occasion and provide tangible solutions—harness all available tools and technology, cut through red tape in order to expand access to mental health services and apply the lessons learned from Covid-19 to mitigate future crises.
The Mental Health Toll
Covid-19 greatly exacerbated the toll on mental health for many medical professionals, who have reported increases in depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal ideation. This is a pandemic all its own—in America, half of public health workers show symptoms of at least one mental health condition. Even more concerning, studies show these workers are more likely to suffer in silence or avoid treatment for fear of having their medical licenses withdrawn.
Further research revealed that healthcare worker burnout has the potential to double the risks of medical error, making it an issue with far-reaching impacts on public health. It’s no wonder the U.S. Surgeon General has made it a top priority to increase access to mental health services for healthcare workers and to break the stigmas surrounding mental healthcare.
Wholesale “solutions” are hard to achieve—no two peoples’ mental health struggles are exactly the same—but the first step towards addressing this issue should be for legislators, private employers, patients and the public at large to acknowledge the strain healthcare workers are under and foster a culture of understanding. Doing so will make it easier for grassroots community or private sector initiatives (i.e., subsidized mental healthcare for employees, employer-promoted self-care plans and more) to take hold and exact real change.
In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Surgeon General highlighted another problem related to healthcare burnout: Much of medical professionals’ time is taken up with mundane tasks such as scheduling, emails or logistics. This leaves doctors with less time and energy to devote to caring for their patients. Administrative staff is also overburdened, and their burnout can affect patient outcomes by increasing wait times or leading to mistakes in communicating care instructions.
Patients don’t want medical professionals to spend their time pushing papers; they want their attention focused on treating their health issues.
Fortunately, there are growing numbers of technologies that can relieve the administrative burden on healthcare professionals. Tools like automated workflow management and remote care solutions can expedite tasks, cut down patient travel time and make healthcare more accessible and digitized, while technologies like cloud and AI/ML platforms can help make sense of large quantities of patient data to improve outcomes. Decision support systems (DSS) can also offer data-driven and personalized options that simultaneously alleviate cumbersome administrative work and maximize resources. Under the surface, there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what offerings, especially benefits, are available for workers. DSS helps to highlight benefits that match an individual worker’s needs and are crucial for offering holistic support in an intuitive and timely manner.
Healthcare organizations would do well to explore these digital solutions and discern which tools will best help them prioritize their patients’ well-being.
Covid-19: Just The Beginning
The pandemic bestowed a slew of lessons for handling public health crises on a global scale. It is critical not to lose sight of these lessons as we move toward the future and other possible global health issues.
Various studies have highlighted key recommendations: fixing workforce issues (insufficient staffing and training), better handling of viral breakouts within health systems themselves, investing in basic infrastructure to improve capacity and efficiency and offering support to the essential healthcare personnel who need it most.
Unfortunately, these are not issues that can be solved overnight. Rather, they will require solutions at the governmental, institutional and grassroots levels.
Healthy Healthcare Workers Make For A Healthy Public
Current projections predict staggering shortages “of more than 3 million essential low-wage health workers in the next five years and a projected shortage of nearly 140,000 physicians by 2033.” How much worse might the next pandemic be if these trends are allowed to continue?
Covid-19 itself remains a risk, and future public health crises are always looming. It is essential that we do more to keep medical professionals healthy, happy, productive and sharp. Only by equipping frontline workers with comprehensive support will society be able to uphold a medical industry that is allowed to thrive in the best of times—and the worst.