How to Manage Caregiver Stress and Trauma in the Covid-19 Era


Covid-19 has affected every aspect of our lives. While the economic and social impact has been immense, Covid-19 remains first and foremost a medical crisis. It is our medical professionals who are responsible for containing and treating this unprecedented crisis. Yet during this time of profound uncertainty, it is easy to overlook the toll the pandemic is taking on frontline healthcare workers. The ability of healthcare leaders to address their staff’s trauma and stress will be essential to their organization’s long-term viability and the future of patient care.

Covid-19 Poses Unique Threats to Healthcare Staff

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus—even basic facts about its transmission, side effects, and immunity must be assembled and absorbed in real time, a process one observer has referred to as “ground-zero empiricism.” Furthermore, the staggering caseloads in many areas have overwhelmed the existing healthcare infrastructure. Caregivers are facing extraordinary physical and psychological challenges that must be balanced with extreme workloads. This situation is further complicated by changes to their once-familiar clinical environments; things like emergency plans, new procedures, and revised workflows are being introduced to prevent transmission. Additionally, they often face challenging situations comforting dying patients who cannot see their families, as well as concerns regarding their own family’s safety and health.

The Impact of Caregiver Stress and Trauma

For many healthcare workers, this has come at an overwhelming physical, mental and emotional price – the extent of which will not be fully realized for years to come. Each person’s experience of trauma is unique and it affects them differently and at different times.

While it’s impossible to determine the full impact stress-related trauma from Covid-19 will have on frontline staff, an initial research study done in China by Lai et al. in March 2020, already indicated it had taken a great toll there with some 50.4% of those surveyed reporting symptoms of depression, 44.6% reporting symptoms of anxiety and 34% percent reporting symptoms of insomnia.

And the harm goes far beyond the individual healthcare workers as illness and absenteeism compromise patient care and drive up costs, as has been documented by Dyrbye et al. in the National Academy of Medicine paper. Burnout and fatigue can contribute to mistakes, malpractice claims, and reputational damage. High-stress workplaces can lead to higher staff turnover and poorer morale, diminishing outcomes as well as quality of care, and resulting in diminished patient experience.

What Can Healthcare Organizations Do?

There are ways to successfully combat these harmful effects. Siemens Healthineers partnered with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), an organization with deep insights into the complex ways in which people react to situations of stress and trauma as well as extensive experience in frontline development and implementation of trauma relief programs in places deeply affected by catastrophic events.

Based on their experience, this thought leadership paper suggests a three-part strategy for healthcare organizations to implement efficient stress and trauma relief programs:

1. Medical professionals are notorious for neglecting their own well-being. This can be combated with a cultural shift toward mental and physical self-care, as well as specific mind-body techniques such as mindful breathing, meditation, and guided imagery.

2. Relief from both stress and trauma must also play a greater role in the workplace. Mind-body medicine programs and small-group sessions on resilience-building could be particularly helpful.

3. Finally, the implementation of organization-wide programs that include train-the-trainer instruction to support colleagues ensures that workers recognize they are not just caregivers, but that they themselves are cared for and considered essential.

Similar programs have been implemented within healthcare organizations, contributing to substantial reductions in escalating healthcare costs.

This thought leadership paper provides a deeper understanding of how stress and trauma can affect healthcare professionals, and it proposes steps to safeguard their health and well-being, thereby helping ensure that patients receive the care they need at this extraordinarily difficult time.

Please click here to download the paper on the Siemens Healthineers website.

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