COVID-19 has been a novel pandemic in many ways beyond the actual virus itself – from the irreparable impacts it’s having on society, to the immense strain it’s put on the healthcare industry. A recent report stated that 93% of healthcare professionals reported experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, and 76% reported exhaustion and burnout . Considering that the virus will continue to have an impact in 2021 and the reality that COVID-19 will likely not be the last epidemic we encounter, we need better systems put in place to protect healthcare providers.
When reflecting on learnings from the last year, and as we think about how to best support care providers moving forward, three strategies, in particular, stand out. These include increasing focus on overall healthcare safety; moving preparedness beyond equipment into clinician training; and improving infection control protocols through technology.
Patient Safety Starts with Clinician Safety
Healthcare workers are experiencing unparalleled amounts of stress, and high-stress levels existed even before COVID-19 began, with next-generation American healthcare professionals among those experiencing the highest levels (79%) of work-related stress at the start of 2020 . As the pandemic persists, they’re feeling more overwhelmed than ever as they face never-before-seen volumes of sick patients and unprecedented workloads. It’s imperative to help alleviate the burdens on healthcare providers that were heightened because of coronavirus, while also putting in place protocols that help keep them safe. If clinicians feel undervalued, at-risk, or overworked, there exists the potential of a mass exodus of healthcare workers from the industry due to burnout.
It’s up to all of us in the healthcare industry to work to solve this issue; clinician safety must be grouped in with patient safety – one can’t exist without the other – and re-focusing attention towards supporting healthcare workers when they need it most, will be crucial. Utilizing technology like remote patient monitoring within the hospital, for example, can help minimize touchpoints and improve clinician safety – detecting and alerting clinicians of changes in a patient’s conditions, patient monitors can enable doctors to view data without necessarily having to attend to patients physically, limiting virus exposure. Technology can also help with clinician safety by reducing the cognitive overload on clinicians, an ongoing issue and one that has been amplified during coronavirus. Given the volumes of patient data clinicians are presented with daily, clinical decision support (CDS) tools can help mine the data and extract actionable clinical insights, alleviating the worries clinicians feel of missing important information and helping them determine where to immediately focus their attention.
Health systems must remain attentive to how clinicians are feeling on a regular basis. By fostering a more open line of communication with their workers to make sure they feel heard, increasing flexibility around staff schedules, or implementing more mental health services, health systems can actively turn more attention toward clinician safety .
Preparedness Should Include Clinician Training
One of the biggest challenges during COVID-19 has been the issue of equipment shortages and bed capacity. Providers have been left scrambling to accommodate the record number of patients needing care at once. When it comes to preparedness, in addition to ramping up resources like PPE, ventilators, and monitors, it will be just as important to help expand critical care teams and ensure all available healthcare staff has the necessary skills outside their area of expertise to assist with patient overflow.
ICU specialists are in high demand and combined with bed capacity shortages a sudden influx of patients is difficult to manage. Often, not enough skilled ICU personnel is available when spikes occur. With these influxes, the cognitive load on critical care nurses becomes too much – having to care for their own critical care patients and then also supervise non-critical care nurses makes maintaining standard levels of care very difficult. Cross-training staff, with an emphasis on critical care, will need to become standard protocol to ensure clinicians feel informed about how to keep their patients safe. Given that in-person training are less feasible when social distancing guidelines exist, implementing e-learning and virtual training is a great way to ensure staff are learning this new material in the near term.
In addition to cross-training, to further expand critical care capabilities, hospitals can utilize tele-ICU programs to enable off-site clinicians in a centralized location to support bedside staff and help manage patients, supplementing care teams and offering extended patient care.
Improving Infection Control Via Technology
An overarching obstacle throughout the pandemic has been providing care to a large influx of patients, while also mitigating risk of exposure as much as possible. Infection control has always been a priority for health systems to keep sickness from spreading – and mask use and antibacterial surface coatings to help keep disease at bay will continue to be useful. However, COVID-19 has taken this to new levels, and the need for innovative solutions to help contain virus spread has become paramount.
Technology can help bridge that gap, including tools that can assess who needs care the most. Patients who are having acute episodes, in some cases, can be effectively and appropriately monitored from home, which helps reduce their risk of catching the virus, as well as frees up bed capacity, and saves resources. Furthermore, via sensors and patient-owned technology, clinicians can conduct virtual wellness checks and maintain a consistent line of sight into patients’ conditions, further reducing the risk of virus exposure as well as allowing clinicians to focus their attention on the sickest patients. Remote patient monitoring tools can also help foster overall hospital connectivity.
Sights Set on the Future, While Not Forgetting the Past
The pandemic has revealed our capacity to move quickly to address needs and shown the vast potential of new technological solutions like remote monitoring. If we don’t lose sight of these lessons and continue to implement new ways of thinking as we have already been doing throughout the pandemic, we will be better equipped to support care providers – both now and in the future.
About Peter Ziese, Ph.D., MD
Dr. Peter Ziese started his clinical career 1990 at the University Hospital of Tuebingen in Germany where he specialized in anesthesiology, with an interest in pediatric and cardiothoracic cases. He further specialized in intensive care and emergency medicine. In 1997 he joined the industry as a clinical consultant with Hewlett Packard, focusing on clinical information systems. In the following years, Dr. Ziese took over responsibilities in telemedicine and key account management within the German health care organization of Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies.
Dr. Ziese joined Philips in 2001, working in international management and heading up first the marketing organization for patient monitoring and later on the sales and marketing center for Patient Monitoring and Critical Care Systems for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Since 2005, he has been leading international sales and service organizations in different parts of Europe, Middle East, and Africa with responsibilities for various Business Groups within Philips. In his previous role, Dr. Ziese was responsible for global sales and marketing for Monitoring & Analytics and Therapeutic Care at Philips. Today he is General Manager of Monitoring & Analytics Business.