When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it completely uprooted some core elements of our health care system. Physicians across the country faced unprecedented challenges, including an immense amount of physical and emotional strain. 

Not only is there a massive shift underway in how care is delivered, but physicians must now grapple with a level of pressure like never before. Here’s a look at the impact the coronavirus has had on physician safety. 

Evolving Standards Surrounding Patient Care

Before COVID-19 hit, physicians were already shouldering the enormous burden of practice demands – from administrative needs to reimbursement and regulatory mandates. 

When it came time to weather the uncertainty of the pandemic, many physician practices were completely upended – not only thwarting access to care, but increasing anxiety in the face of such an existential event. 

To highlight the extent of the crisis, The Physicians Foundation conducted research to examine the effects in their 2020 Survey of America’s Physicians: COVID-19 Impact Edition. Some of the more jarring findings include:

  • 72% of physicians indicated a decrease in income due to COVID-19. 
  • 43% of physicians were forced to reduce their staff due to COVID-19. 
  • An estimated 16,000 practices shut their doors as a result of COVID-19 – with an additional 4% planning to close over the next 12 months. 
  • 72% of physicians said patient health within their communities will significantly decline in the wake of the pandemic because patients delayed getting the care they needed. 
  • 12% (approx. 100,000) physicians adopted a predominately telemedicine-centered structure as a result of COVID-19. What’s more, 52% of physicians plan on expanding their use of telemedicine moving forward. 

A Harrowing Rise in Physician Burnout

Physician burnout is a perennial issue that has become a mounting concern year over year. Prior to the pandemic, a NEJM Catalyst survey revealed nearly 83% of clinical leaders, clinicians and healthcare executives named burnout as the leading issue plaguing their organization.

Since the onset of COVID-19, there’s been a massive spike in physician burnout. According to Medscape, nearly two-thirds of physicians in the U.S. said their sense of burnout has intensified due to the pandemic. 46% also reported increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

There are a number of reasons for the uptick in burnout. In addition to the extended hours, physicians noted potential exposure due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as the emotional toll of treating individuals likely to die from the illness as major sources of stress. 

Perhaps even more concerning is how doctors are coping with the psychological strain of the pandemic. In the same survey, 29% of respondents admitted they’re eating more, 19% said they’ve increased their alcohol consumption and 2% said they’re using prescription medication, such as stimulants. 

An Uptick in Anxiety and Depression Symptoms

The pandemic has driven the emergence of anxiety and depression in physicians. A large component fueling this trend is the guilt associated with patient care during the pandemic. Not only are doctors watching patients die alone, but due to safety protocols, they’re forced to break the painful news to a person’s family via technology (rather than face-to-face). 

More studies are being established to further measure the mental health implications for physicians caring for patients battling COVID-19. Moving forward, healthcare systems and facilities must begin implementing new procedures for protecting the physical and psychological health of their staff. Emotional distress is not only a threat to the clinician but can put patient safety on the line as well. 

Adequate staffing is one of the many solutions healthcare organizations are now incorporating into their infrastructure. By having a pipeline of accessible talent available, leaders can ensure physicians aren’t overworked, patients are receiving high-quality care and workers that need time off to heal and recover can safely do so.

Looking to equip your facility with the staffing resources needed to survive and succeed? Contact us today to learn more about how our healthcare staffing solutions can help improve patient care and physician safety.