The impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers

posted on January 23, 2022 | Author DR. SHEIKH MANSOOR SHAFI AND DR. SUHAÏB SHAMAS

Integrity, compassion, selflessness, continuous improvement, excellence, working in partnership – these are the values ​​of medical professionalism, but much of the thinking around medical professionalism remains rooted in an idealized, traditional and paternalistic basis of self-sacrifice and service to humanity, in which the perceived good physician prioritizes the care of his patient above all else. The mental and physical stresses caused by meeting this standard can aggravate many of the factors that affect physician well-being, including the balance between family and work life. While other aspects of professionalism, such as autonomy, have been eroded, do we end up with a shell of values ​​that have become harmful to doctors and their well-being?

The outbreak has strained already overstretched, understaffed and underfunded health systems. COVID-19 has pushed doctors and healthcare professionals to their professional limits, harming their health and well-being. . During pandemics, fundamental concepts of medical professionalism have been challenged, including the importance of patient well-being, patient autonomy, and social justice. Many doctors around the world have had to adapt their practices, prioritize patient care and make difficult decisions based on limited resources, such as delaying and withdrawing potentially life-saving drugs. Doctors have had to balance their own danger with their responsibility to care for patients, as well as professional and caring obligations for family members in high-risk groups.

Over 300,000 healthcare workers in 79 countries have been infected with COVID-19, with over 7,000 deaths and many more suffering from stress, burnout and moral damage.

Looking back over the past few months, several factors may have exacerbated the fatigue and burnout of physicians and other associated personnel, including the anticipated, and now suffered, overload of the health system’s capacity to respond to the pandemic, as well as the elevated risk to frontline healthcare workers and their families due to constant exposure. Physicians’ discomfort is caused by a variety of circumstances, including feelings of vulnerability or lack of control, worries about their own health, spreading infection to family and others, and isolation. They also have to deal with critically ill patients who are more likely to develop complications and have a higher mortality rate.

Certain cultural attitudes have continually underinvested in healthcare professionals by pressuring physicians to do more at the expense of their own health. The COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated these issues. This pandemic, combined with the worsening of the health crisis, has posed a number of physiological and psychological problems for healthcare personnel. This increased the doctors’ workload and stress, as well as violent attacks. Healthcare workers are willing to put their lives and the health of their families on the line to save others despite their meager financial means and, in some cases, lack of equipment or medicine. Physicians frequently encounter enraged patients and families, particularly when counseling them on their diagnosis of COVID-19 or informing them that a patient has died. Often, some of the patient’s family members dispute the diagnosis and accuse the doctors of rigging the results. In frenzied assaults, they use physical and verbal aggression against doctors, destroy rooms and machines, and forcefully invade doctors’ toilets. It is not surprising that there is a high percentage of stress and burnout at work. To better secure and defend our medical personnel in the future, a system-level approach to addressing the difficulties generated by COVID-19 is urgently needed.

Physicians and those in their care will benefit from a rebuilt professionalism that integrates the agendas of the right to health, equality, social justice, diversity and inclusion, the well-being of physicians and workforce planning. As an integral part of professionalism and at the heart of patient care, these methods must emphasize organizational culture and the well-being of workers. Optimizing the efficiency of healthcare systems, improving the patient experience, promoting population health and reducing costs can all be achieved by improving the working lives of clinicians.

Several wellness initiatives for physicians have been well received during COVID-19. They must, however, be complemented by organizational initiatives such as flexible working arrangements, better cooperation, reduced administrative burden and efficient use of technology. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers must be properly supported. The medical profession, health care institutions and society all have a role to play in ensuring that this help is available.

(The authors are associated with SKIMS Soura Advanced Center for Human Genetics. [email protected])

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