In just four short months, COVID-19 has swept into at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people. In an effort to further prevent the spread of the virus, Americans have been practicing ‘social distancing.’ Schools have closed. Corporations have gone virtual. And most recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced new recommendations that no gatherings with 50 people or more (10 or more when dealing with higher-risk populations) take place for the next eight weeks.
While these are certainly small steps that can have a large impact, there’s one portion of the population that is, to little surprise, excused from these limitations — medical professionals. Our doctors are disproportionally impacted by the virus. Each and every day they are running toward it – while everyone else stays away – putting their own health at risk while serving on the front lines of care. Because of this, each day brings uncertainty, with care teams not knowing how many new patients they may have to treat that day and whether or not they, too, may fall victim to the terrible virus as a result of being in close contact with at-risk individuals.
An article recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry noted that medical professionals in Wuhan “have been facing enormous pressure, including a high risk of infection and inadequate protection from contamination, overwork, frustration, discrimination, isolation, patients with negative emotions, a lack of contact with their families and exhaustion.” And authors added that the severe situation – which is causing mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger and fear – can impact the medical workers’ attention, understanding and decision-making ability. It’s clear that COVID-19 poses a serious and direct threat on medical professionals at a time when burnout rates have reached all-time highs.
Do Your Part: Easing the Burden on Health Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
It is our personal responsibility to take the steps recommended by our nation’s governing bodies to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ease the burden on medical professionals. Everyone – whether a patient, an organization, a community leader, or a technology vendor – has an important role to play during this time. Here’s how.
We know that “a major epidemic or pandemic can overwhelm the capacity of outpatient facilities, emergency departments (EDs), hospitals and intensive care units, leading to critical shortages of staff, space and supplies, with serious implications for patient outcomes.” A sudden surge in transmission of this virus will overwhelm our healthcare system, which is only capable of caring for a specific number of individuals at any given time. Some estimates suggest we may need almost twice the number of critical care hospital beds currently available in the U.S. in order to care for people infected by COVID-19 If COVID-19 spreads too rapidly, the pressure on hospitals as well as medical professionals will grow. Facilities will not have enough hospital beds, ventilators and medication to treat those with the virus — or to treat patients who have an unrelated medical need, such as a heart attack, stroke or treatment needed from inquires sustaining from a car accident. If this happens, our nation’s doctors will be forced to make life or death decisions. It is for this reason the CDC strongly recommends social distancing, as we must flatten the curve to avoid further complexities.
On the technology side, to this point our hospitals and health systems have not had adequate access to the tech, tools and resources needed to properly test, triage and treat patients. However, the industry as a whole – both public and private – is coming together to develop and implement such technologies that will arm providers with proper testing capabilities. And it’s important that this continues, as physicians need better information faster, enabling us to determine the best course of action for our patients and to offer recommendations more effectively.
Telemedicine is key here, and is heavily being used to triage patients faster, while also enabling everyone to practice social distancing, thus reducing the risk of virus transmission. By reviewing symptoms remotely, doctors can prevent their offices and EDs from being overwhelmed with sick patients sitting in the waiting room. These types of solutions also allow providers to continue delivering care if their office has to close temporarily to the public. It’s important for all consumers to remember that telehealth solutions are a critical avenue during a pandemic and we must take advantage of these services during this time, not only for questions related to COVID-19, but for any general questions or brief check-ups as well.
While the uncertainty around COVID-19 makes this an uncertain time for all of us, it’s important to remember that we all play a role in slowing down transmission. Our healthcare system is working tirelessly to provide quality patient care. For those of us that are working from home or spending more time with children who are schooling virtually, remember to slow down and spend time with your family and loved ones. Check in on your friends and neighbors (virtually). Take care of the elderly in your life. And most importantly, be there for the people you know who work in healthcare. They are facing incredible pressure and long hours battling this virus, on top of their already busy schedules. By working together, we can contain COVID-19 and ensure those that are diagnosed receive the best possible care. We’re in this together.