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Coronavirus update: COVID-19 impact on healthcare workers

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From medical supply shortages to self-isolation, healthcare workers worldwide are facing unprecedented challenges under the coronavirus outbreak.

The coronavirus outbreak is having a significant toll worldwide, not only on economies and systems from education to health, but on people – including those who are directly fighting the virus to keep nations safe.

The strain is mounting.

In recent days the UK Prime Minister urged 65,000 former medical professionals to step out of retirement, and the Chief Nursing Officer for England called on all recent former nurses to lend their expertise and experience.

In Italy, where the healthcare system is struggling, a tipping point has been passed, with hospitals reportedly near collapse and physicians left feeling exhausted and emotionally depleted.  

The following are just some of the ways health professionals are impacted by the coronavirus:

Self-isolation

Healthcare workers are of course not immune to the coronavirus, whether they are government leaders such as the UK's Health Minister and Iran’s deputy health minister, hospital directors, or nurses.

Healthcare workers are concerned that they are bringing the coronavirus home and are undergoing self-isolation. In at least one case, a physician is self-isolating for seven to 14 days after displaying virus symptoms. Some health workers are being asked to self-isolate after travel, for example those in Ontario, Canada.

Mental health

Isolation and quarantine can have a major psychological impact.

The American Psychological Institute stated in 2019 that loneliness and social isolation significantly increased risk for premature mortality, and a UK expert with the Economic and Social Research Institute warned that healthcare workers are more likely to experience mental health issues as a result of self-isolation.

Mental health problems and emotional imbalances may present under different forms with a combination of different symptoms. Stretched by coronavirus-related demand and feeling helpless, for example, healthcare workers are reporting headaches and nausea when faced with stress.

Sleep is also being impacted: people living under lockdown are getting up later and many people are struggling to sleep altogether. To support mental health and sleep, Slumber Yard has created a guide Sleep During a Crisis, which includes sleep tips and how the human body is affected under crisis.

Recognising that feeling stressed is an experience that many health workers are likely going through, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a series of mental health considerations as support for everyone’s mental and psychological wellbeing during the crisis.

WHO considerations for health workers include taking care of basic needs (and avoiding unhelpful coping strategies like cigarettes and alcohol), encouraging good quality communication, rotating staff from high stress functions to lower stress functions, ensuring that staff have access to mental health services, and other measures.

People in isolation – including health staff – are encouraged to stay connected and maintain social networks, pay attention to their own needs and feelings, and avoid listening to rumours that may make them feel uncomfortable.

The efforts of healthcare workers are not going unnoticed. Across the world, grateful citizens are showing their appreciation. In France, Italy, Israel and Spain frontline workers were applauded from windows on locked down streets. A new hashtag, #WeApplaud, is resounding loud and clear across social networks globally. 

Medical supply shortages

Healthcare workers are speaking out about medical supply shortages, from masks to ventilators, especially in the United States where imports dramatically fell in February, mostly from China.

Medical professionals are saying that these shortages are putting themselves at risk, and are reportedly "terrified" for themselves and their patients.

To address the shortage, urgent calls are growing on social media for medical supplies, N95 masks especially.

In Italy, medications, mechanical ventilators, oxygen and personal protective equipment are not available, physicians claim.

Telemedicine

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing hospitals to reduce the number of people visiting so that they can manage the COVID-19 outbreak better.

Telemedicine, at its most basic level someone picking up a phone to the doctor, is on the rise. Virtual telephone clinics in the UK are replacing face to face appointments amidst the crisis.

In the US, the Trump administration and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced steps to expand access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Apps and websites are also having a critical new role in the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, Cleveland Clinic is asking patients to use their Express Care Online or call their primary care physician. Cleveland Clinic saw a fifteenfold increase in telehealth visits.

 

In the GCC, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) is offering 24/7 consultations with doctors regarding COVID-19 concerns via video and voice calls under the Doctor for Every Citizen initiative.

A Virtual Doctor chatbot was furthermore launched by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention to ease the coronavirus burden on the health services. It asks users five multiple-choice questions, including a person’s travel history, symptoms and if they’ve been in contact with someone who has been infected with the coronavirus.

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