In a blog article back in November of last year, we took a close look at the ongoing problem of physician and staff burnout in healthcare, as well as how EHR should be reducing the problem instead of adding to it. However, that was 2019. Needless to say, 2020 has turned out to be a completely different ballgame and the world we now live in is a very different place. Unfortunately, when it comes to burnout and mental health issues among healthcare workers, this situation has only worsened.
COVID-19 is Exacerbating the Burnout Problem
A recent survey conducted by Medscape paints a rather grim picture of the current state of those working in the healthcare industry, mostly as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among respondents to the survey, almost 64 percent of physicians reported experiencing higher levels of burnout since the beginning of the pandemic.
The future could see an even more serious burnout crisis, as a physician shortage has already been predicted on the near horizon. It now seems that this shortage may arrive sooner than later, as 12 percent of physicians who responded to the Medscape survey claimed they had plans to stop practicing medicine and 25 percent said they are planning to retire early as a direct result of their current experiences with COVID-19.
In addition to the burnout providers are feeling from heavy workflows and trying to maintain compliance with new COVID-19 regulations, they are also experiencing mental and emotional problems due to greater financial burdens, increased feelings of loneliness and heightened levels of anxiety.
In the Medscape survey, a staggering 62 percent of physicians reported that their incomes have decreased since the start of the pandemic and 33 percent reported their incomes have decreased by between 11-25 percent. As a result of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, 46 percent of respondents said they have been experiencing greater feeling of loneliness.
Sadly, only 43 percent of responding physicians said their workplace offers activities to help clinicians with stress and grief. This means that more than half of physicians have no resources for addressing mental or emotional crises they may be experiencing.
Know the Crisis Warning Signs
In these turbulent days, it is important to be on the lookout for warning signs that someone in your practice may be on the verge of (or in the middle of) a mental or emotional breakdown. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there are a number of warning signs to look for that could indicate an individual is in crisis:
- Excessive feelings of worry, sadness or fear
- Confused thinking or trouble concentrating
- Sudden and extreme changes in mood (this can mean both euphoric “highs” as well as depressed “lows”)
- Self-destructive or unnecessarily risky behaviors
- Uncharacteristic outbursts of irritability or anger
- Difficulty sleeping or low energy levels
- Sudden and significant gain/loss of body weight (without a reasonable cause, such as an injury or bariatric surgery)
- Lack of appetite
- Signs of substance abuse (alcohol or drugs)
- Symptoms of physical ailments without obvious causes (headaches, stomach aches, aches and pains, etc.)
- Panic/Anxiety attacks
- Uncharacteristically poor work performance
How to Help Someone in Crisis
If you suspect that you, a coworker or staff member may be in crisis, it is important to act if you are seeing the above warnings signs. But what should you do? According to NAMI and healthline, you should consider taking one or more of the following steps:
- Do Not Ignore the Issue – If you see someone struggling, make a plan to discuss the issue with him or her.
- Communicate Clearly – Avoid being confrontational, and clearly communicate that you have concerns from a place of care and sympathy.
- Seek Help – If it becomes apparent that the person is in extreme crisis, it may be necessary to seek immediate professional help by using the following resources:
- Contact a Counselor or Therapist – If the individual already sees a counselor or therapist, help them get into contact with that person.
- Contact a Telehealth Counselor – If the person does not have a therapist, in the current public health situation it may be convenient to seek help from a connected care service such as e-psychiatry or betterhelp.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline – If the person may be suicidal, call 1-800-273-8255 or text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
- Call 911 – If the situation becomes dangerous or the person is experiencing a life-threatening crisis, call emergency services immediately.
Everyone is feeling the strain these days, and it is important for us all to acknowledge that it is “okay to not be okay.” We are each living through one of the most difficult periods in recent human history, and sometimes we might need a little help to get through the worst of times. This is especially true for those in the healthcare industry. The most important thing is that we keep looking out for each other as best we can.
This too shall pass.