A new survey shows that COVID has taken a heavy toll on the welfare of healthcare workers.
Already struggling with high levels of emotional exhaustion as the pandemic entered, the problem only worsened two years into the crisis management. Nurses in particular have been hit hard.
Over three years, researchers conducted surveys with more than 30,000 health care workers — including doctors, nurses, clinical and administrative social workers, and others — to track the emotional impact of the pandemic.
Their findings were published in JAMA Network is open.
Across all roles, researchers found increases in emotional fatigue — a way of measuring burnout and well-being — from 32% in 2019, before COVID hit, to 40% by January 2022.
“Emotional exhaustion is essentially a way of measuring a person’s ability to ‘do things,’” says lead author Brian Sexton, director of the Duke University Center for Health Care Safety and Quality. “So, as the well-being of the healthcare workforce is affected, so is the ability to.” Do things “for their patients.”
Sexton and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey of 30,000 health care workers in 76 hospitals located geographically throughout the United States. They conducted the surveys before the pandemic (September 2019) and twice during the pandemic (September 2021 and January 2022).
The survey covered safety culture, workforce wellbeing, and engagement, as well as measures of emotional exhaustion that captured individual perceptions and workplace climate.
The surveys asked participants to rate their agreement with statements such as: “I feel frustrated with my job” and “Events in this work environment are affecting my life in an emotionally unhealthy way.”
To assess the workplace more broadly, participants rated outwardly focused statements, including: “People in this work environment are feeling frustrated with their jobs” and “Events in this work environment affect people’s lives here in an emotionally unhealthy way.”
The nurses had the highest levels of emotional exhaustion. They started the epidemic with 41% reporting emotional exhaustion, and this percentage escalated to 46% in the first year and 49% in the second. This same pattern has emerged for every other job role in health care, albeit with low initiation rates.
Doctors were an exception.
Physicians had a unique trajectory, reporting a pre-pandemic emotional exhaustion rate of 32% and actually dropping to 28% in the first year of the pandemic. Then it jumped to 38% in the second year.
Sexton says workloads for many doctors decreased during the first year of the pandemic, as clinical appointments were canceled and in many cases replaced by telehealth visits, which doctors can make from home. Then the appearance of the delta variant, followed by the Omicron variant, was associated with a sharp increase in workload and physician fatigue.
The findings can be used to help guide employers and health care providers to create more effective health programs, the researchers say.
“Before the pandemic, many organizations would have considered themselves progressive if they had put together a task force to screen health care worker depletion,” Sexton says. “We now know that burnout is a parallel pandemic that will be felt for many years to come.
“Leaders need tiered options to respond to this problem, and we suggest that both institutional and individual resources are needed for healthcare well-being, as evidenced by the findings for roles reported in our study.”
The National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration funded the work.
source: Duke University
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