Growing up, many kids had the lifelong dream of being medical practitioners. The appeal of having a stethoscope around your neck was too tempting to resist. However, the dream's appeal is a stark difference from the reality of healthcare workers. Medical providers have one of the most rigorous careers, evident by the ratio of physicians to patients.
There are 2.6 physicians to 1,000 patients in the United States, and with those numbers, healthcare workers are often and frequently overwhelmed with the number of patients they have to deal with. Aside from the workload, they’re more susceptible to infections while treating patients. This especially became more prevalent in the past two years due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
An Added Layer of Complication
The pandemic increased the stress and anxiety of the general populace, exposing doctors to rudeness and verbal aggression from aggrieved relatives of patients. Research shows that since 2020, the complaint rate, threatening and violent behavior toward healthcare workers has increased. When clinicians function from this disruptive state, it can affect working memory and decrease performance.
Beyond this, it is often difficult for medical practitioners to seek help because everyone expects them to be perfect. Not forgetting the stigma and shame of being tagged as a patient. Here are some of the chronic health challenges health workers are exposed to.
Healthcare practitioners are more prone to burnout than workers from other industries. This is because of the staff shortage and mass exodus experienced in the healthcare sector. Many workers now have long and inconsistent work schedules. With the pandemic, more physicians reported exhaustion and sleep disorders.
But beyond this, another surprising source of burnout for clinicians is the Electronic Health Records (EHR). You might ask what is EHR, and how does it increase burnout for medical practitioners? EHR is a database of patients' medical records that includes medical history, treatment plans, diagnosis, medications, etc. It gives medical practitioners across different organizations quick access to patient data.
Solutions to Burnout
So, how can a system that seems so efficient cause burnout in clinicians? Research shows that providers spend twice the time with patients populating the EHR. With the number of patients they have to see, EHRs are quickly becoming a major stressor for doctors. Seeing how doctors have to handle more clerical responsibilities like data entry and billing.
EHRs also put a strain on physician-patient relationships, as it reduces physical communication and increases screen time distractions. It also threatens work-life balance as physicians are often compelled to complete the data after work hours. Another study showed that 80 percent of physicians who reported burnout identified EHRs as the top factor.
Healthcare workers are burdened with handling high-intensity medical operations daily. They experience highly emotional situations while caring for patients. They experience first-hand pain and death of patients, which could leave a lasting impact on their psyche. Other times, it’s the pressure from the patient’s relatives and friends.
The pandemic's uncertainty also increased healthcare workers' stress and anxiety. Being understaffed and seeing so many patients can be overwhelming. The unpredictable nature of the shifts, calls and work schedules can be stressors as well. And as front-line workers, the risk of infection and injury is higher.
Managing Mental Illness
Research shows that mental illness is more common among clinicians than in the general populace. But with a closer look, the reason isn't far-fetched with the stress that medical practitioners are exposed to daily. In fact, 25 percent of medical practitioners are at risk of mental breakdown. And the suicide rate in the medical profession is about four times higher than in other industries.
Some specialties have been recorded to have even higher risk factors — general practitioners, psychiatrists, and pediatricians have more females at a higher risk of suicide. Sometimes, healthcare workers know they ought to seek treatment, but the stigma associated with treatment makes them cringe. A coworker's negative attitude and therapeutic pessimism are reasons clinicians choose to remain silent.
But, beyond this fear, healthcare workers should be bold enough to seek help. Else, the career you so jealously guard could go down the drain faster than you can imagine. Remember, only a physically and mentally fit person can treat others.
Finding the Right Balance
Medical practitioners are known for being selfless. But at this critical time, you must prioritize your health. One way to do this is through self-care and finding the right work-life balance. Hospital management must prioritize a work culture that centers on staff wellbeing and health.