In a recently published JAMA study, well-being expert and co-inventor of the Well-Being Index Dr. Tait Shanafelt along with other researchers explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of healthcare providers. According to the study, to successfully and efficiently reduce distress caused by the pandemic, healthcare leaders must have an accurate understanding of what specific factors are causing anxiety. "Focusing on addressing those concerns, rather than teaching generic approaches to stress reduction or resilience, should be the primary focus of support efforts."
To collect this data, Dr. Shanafelt and his team conducted eight listening sessions with groups of physicians, nurses, advanced practice clinicians, residents, and fellows. These sessions were held during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic and focused on three main areas:
- What health care professionals were most concerned about
- What messaging and behaviors they needed from their leaders
- What other tangible sources of support they believed would be most helpful to them
Below are the eight sources of anxiety the conversations centered on.
1. Access to appropriate PPE
Many healthcare institutions have struggled with securing the personal protective equipment that is needed by those on the front lines. Providers and staff depend on their organization to protect them, especially during uncertain and dangerous times.
2. Being exposed and bringing the infection home
Along with the risk of infection, healthcare professionals are concerned about the possibility of taking the infection home with them and transmitting the disease to other family members, especially those who may be at an increased risk due to age or other health conditions.
3. Not having rapid access to testing
Hand in hand with the fear of infection is the concern with not having access to testing. If a healthcare professional or a loved one begins displaying symptoms of COVID-19 that warrant testing, efficient evaluation and rapid testing is needed to ensure the physical and mental well-being of all involved.
4. Uncertainty that their organization will support them if they develop the infection
Healthcare workers, especially those on the frontlines during this pandemic, need to know that they will be supported should the worst happen and they develop the infection. Organizations should be communicating openly with staff on policies and should offer holistic support for staff that may need to be quarantined.
5. Access to childcare during increased work hours and school closures
Clinicians and other healthcare staff have anything but normal hours during this pandemic response, and the disruptions of schedules and everyday life can have a major impact of mental well-being. During these extreme conditions, support for personal and family needs such as childcare should be prioritized so staff can do their job.
6. Support for other personal and family needs as work hours and demands increase
In addition to childcare, other personal needs such as food and adequate time off are a concern for healthcare staff. This support is vital to maintain emotional and psychological well-being. Policies should reflect this need and ensure that those sacrificing their safety will be cared for.
7. Being able to provide competent medical care if deployed to a new area
Through the listening sessions, researchers identified the concern of providers' ability to effectively care for patients should they be called upon to work in a new area (for example, non-ICU nurses being transferred to the ICU to provide assistance). Communicating that clinicians have the skills and are trained to do the work can help reduce stress and improve well-being.
8. Lack of access to up-to-date information and communication
Reducing concern by remaining in constance communication, providing support videos, offering easy-to-access resources, and implementing actionable steps for individuals to maximize their well-being can go a long way in easing the burden and making clinicians feel supported.
Additional Resources and Research
For more information on well-being and distress during this challenging time, stay up-to-date with the Well-Being Index blog. Explore the additional resources below on how organizations can reduce distress during COVID-19: