Psychological Effects of COVID-19 on Healthcare Workers

Columbia Icefield (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Columbia Icefield (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Statistics show as of January 15, 2021, there were 695,704 COVID-19 cases in Canada. Of those, 65,920 (9.5 per cent) were healthcare workers. Twenty-four healthcare workers had died from COVID-19 by that date. Since then, more doctors and other healthcare workers have contracted the disease or have died.

In Alberta, there were 7,986 COVID-19 cases in healthcare workers, which made up 6.9 per cent of the total cases. There were four COVID-19 – related healthcare worker deaths.

That raises the question: How can healthcare workers practice the best possible medicine under extraordinary circumstances?

Every Alberta healthcare worker is exposed through work in in-patient units that are likely to admit Covid-19 patients together with healthcare workers working in family medicine, emergency medicine, ambulatory care or in walk-in clinics.

Besides being exposed to COVID-19 there is psychological burden. Overall wellness of healthcare workers has received increasing awareness, with research continuing to show high rates of burnout, psychological stress, and suicide.

With this kind of burden, health care workers experience emotional exhaustion, which may lead to medical errors, lack of empathy in treating patients, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates. This has been seen not only in Alberta or Canada but all over the world. How is this going to affect them down the road is not known.

What can we do to help healthcare workers?

We should make sure we provide uninterrupted, quality care to healthcare workers when they are sick. They should be encouraged to take care of themselves.

We should understand that when we take care of ourselves, we are helping the doctors and other healthcare workers to take care of people who are sick.

We should follow the principles laid down by our government and healthcare professionals to prevent the spread of the virus: maintain social distance, wear a mask, wash our hands frequently, avoid parties and social gatherings and take care of our family and friends.

We should mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health by protecting and promoting the psychological wellbeing of healthcare workers during and after the outbreak. We should not forget them after the pandemic is over.

Following are key points mentioned in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ April 27, 2020) titled “Mitigating the psychological effects of COVID-19 on healthcare workers”:

  1. Combating fears and uncertainties by strong leadership with clear, honest and open communication.
  2. Bolster individual self-efficacy and confidence by providing adequate resources (e.g., medical supplies) and mental health support.
  3. Provide psychosocial support while preserving physical distancing.
  4. Healthcare workers should be complimented for serving for greater good in times of crisis.

Doctors, other healthcare workers and the general public is stressed for several reasons: uncertainty about the duration of the crisis, social misinformation, lack of proven therapies, and shortages of healthcare resources, including personal protective equipment. Add to that are the effects of social distancing balanced against the desire to be present for their families, and the possibility of personal and family illness.

We cannot overlook the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers. Since there are no easy solutions to the current problems, mitigation strategies for all scenarios are vital to ensure psychological wellness and in turn ensure a healthy and robust clinical workforce. We are all in this together.

One for all, all for one. Take care.

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