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Impact of COVID-19 on mental health of radiology workers

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Heightened risk for mental health problems among healthcare professionals who were in direct contact with COVID-19 cases was reported.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate since the worldwide lockdowns that were implemented in March 2020. The resulting health situations have progressed through numerous stages. The UAE has taken unprecedented precautionary measures, including complete lockdowns against COVID-19 to control its spread and ensure the well-being of individuals. Guidance on infection control and use of personal protective equipment was provided.

The major clinical tools used in the diagnosis of patients presenting with respiratory distress and suspected COVID-19 symptoms are radiology examinations. Along with the patient’s clinical history and blood biomarkers, radiological investigations play an important role in the identification of COVID-19 respiratory symptoms. Chest X-ray and computed tomography (CT) have an important role in the management of patients with respiratory distress and COVID-19 symptoms. 

Radiologists, radiographers and radiology nurses, are part of the front-line healthcare professionals combating COVID-19. Most of the workers come into physical contact with patients during radiological examinations. In the Middle East, the workload in the radiology department increased due to pressure on general x-ray and CT, and also decreased in other modalities due to adherence to national and international guidance to minimise non-essential examinations. On the other hand, portable X-ray increased to reduce disease transmission, and in-department examination has declined. The reported decline and increase in workload are similar to other reports from North America, Africa and Europe.

Radiology workers faced unique experience while delivering radiological services during this unprecedented time. They have dedicated to providing patient care service, supporting patient safety and promoting the well-being of others despite the impact on their health. Fear, anxiety, panic attacks, sleep, eating disorders and suicide have been reported among healthcare providers during previous pandemics. Similar findings were reported during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a heightened risk for mental health problems among healthcare professionals who were in direct contact with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.

Radiology workers reported adequate availability of personal protective equipment, were afraid of becoming infected at work. Healthcare professionals involved in the care of COVID-19 patients should undergo regular evaluations of stress, depression, and anxiety levels to support their well-being. Similarly, radiology workers suggested the need for professional support to deal with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the requirement of creating awareness of the need for professional support amongst the radiology workers in coping with stress, anxiety and other psychological disorders that might arise during the COVID-19 pandemic and similar crises.

In the Middle East, radiology workers reported adequate availability of personal protective equipment; however, 56.9 per cent were scared to be infected with COVID-19. China reported higher percentages, as 85 per cent of healthcare professionals were afraid of the COVID-19 infection. The COVID-19 pandemic has become a significant stressor to medical professionals, and studies in China indicated high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. It is extremely important to support mental and physical health during the current pandemic and prepare an emergency plan for future similar incidents.

Studies reported that healthcare workers, especially the front-line staff, who were involved in handling patients infected or suspected to be infected with COVID-19 are at greater risk of stress and anxiety than other medical workers. The psychological outcomes of these workers can be due to many reasons such as increased workload, long working hours, use of personal protective equipment, and social media news. Infections among colleagues and family members increased the risk of developing anxiety, depression and stress among health care providers. It is imperative to establish clear directives, initiate precautionary measures, provide informed health interventions, obtain support from family, and increase the productivity of the radiology workers in preparation for both current and future outbreaks.

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Dr. Wiam Elshami

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.

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