How to address the wellbeing crisis affecting healthcare workers

Noggin Pty Ltd

By James Boddam-Whetham, CEO, Noggin
Friday, 23 July, 2021



How to address the wellbeing crisis affecting healthcare workers

In the last two years, Australia’s healthcare sector has lurched from crisis to crisis — first Black Summer and now the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have tested frontline workers like never before.

Healthcare workers have risen to the occasion, but the ordeal has left emotional scarring.

We know from academic research that periods of crisis, particularly epidemics, leave healthcare workers more susceptible to significant psychological stress.1 Battling on the frontlines of fast-moving disease, healthcare workers are not only responsible for the care of patients, but have to protect their own safety, as well, with concerns about catching the infection and transmitting it back to loved ones. Healthcare professionals also work longer hours in moments of crisis, in more stressful conditions, often having to make life or death decisions about the allocation of limited resources.

COVID-19 has proven no different. Add to the fears of contracting and transmitting the novel virus, our healthcare workers have also had to contend with an upsurge in patient and community abuse,2 less-than-optimal communication of appropriate infection control guidelines and often-inadequate supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE).3

It is no surprise reported levels of stress, anxiety and burnout have surged. Conducted by the Royal Melbourne Hospital, polling of more than 10,000 Australian healthcare workers revealed anxiety, burnout and depression rates of 61%, 58% and 28% respectively.4 Earlier surveys also showed spikes, with respondents sharing feelings of lack of support in their work environment.5

Longstanding issues with healthcare worker safety

Of course, healthcare professionals are no strangers to stress on the job. In this respect, though, COVID-19 could not have come along at a worse time — just as healthcare organisations were trying to come to grips with the crisis of patient-initiated violence on their workers.

Studies like the Anderson Hospital Security Report in New South Wales and the Violence in Nursing and Midwifery revealed crisis levels of occupational violence for healthcare workers. The latter, in particular, showed half of the participants reported experiencing violence on the job in just the week prior to completing the survey.6

Healthcare organisations owe a duty of care to these workers and have a responsibility to eliminate if not reduce risks (both physical and psychological) to health and safety. Flout this duty and organisations have to pay big. Many already are.

Indeed, the healthcare and social assistance industry logged the second highest rate of serious accepted claims caused by mental stress, according to the Productivity Commission. As a group, health and welfare support workers only come in behind defence force members, police and firefighters, and school teachers in terms of mental-health-related workers compensation claims. The industry as a whole has seen the highest increase in costs per employee for providing mental health treatment for six months.

Digital solutions to the wellbeing crisis

Healthcare organisations not only sit on these higher compliance and legal costs, but they cannot ignore indirect costs of scared, demotivated staff — some who are even planning to leave the profession altogether if polling is accurate.7 What can be done?

At Noggin, we recommend digital solutions to the mental health and wellbeing crisis afflicting healthcare workers. Such solutions can work on two fronts, helping healthcare organisations develop proactive safety and security cultures as well as mentally healthy workforces.

On the first front, advanced digital solutions can replace legacy information management systems that have done a poor job tracking safety and security incidents in the clinical setting. More advanced systems would be better tailored to different security operations and incidents, enable a higher level of situational awareness and more efficient incident response, while creating a more legible audit trail.

The platforms also fit within existing safety management systems, making the transition to recognising and managing workplace-related psychosocial risks seamless. These solutions generate better situational awareness of the current events impacting personnel. They conduct digital welfare checks at scale, quickly triage responses and push digital surveys to personnel to understand how they are coping before, during and after traumatic events.

These solutions also facilitate action, by broadcasting timely communications to distributed personnel, enabling healthcare workers to request mental health and wellbeing support or self-select from available programs and relevant information.

The best part is these solutions work quickly. When a crisis is pressing, healthcare leaders should be leery of investing in platforms that take years to operationalise. Here, they won’t have to worry, with out-of-the-box best-practice templates letting healthcare organisations immediately launch initiatives that meet their workers’ pressing needs. Healthcare organisations can also customise initiatives to new requirements as they evolve.

Finally, aspects of patient care have already gone digital. Now it is time for healthcare organisations to digitise wellbeing management initiatives to meet the urgent needs of their workers. Much will be gained by investing in digital, integrated safety and wellbeing solutions; not just happier, safer staff but also higher productivity and lower long-term costs.

James Boddam-Whetham is the CEO of Noggin, an integrated security, safety, crisis and emergency management, and business continuity software provider. Noggin provides dedicated software solutions that help businesses comply with protective security obligations (PSOs) and the Australian Security of Critical Infrastructure Act.

References

  1. Ali Sahebi et al, Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry: The prevalence of anxiety and depression among healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: An umbrella review of meta-analyses: Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7817526/.
  2. Kevin Nguyen, ABC News: NSW nurses told not wear scrubs outside of hospital due to abuse over coronavirus fears. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-05/nsw-nurses-midwives-abused-during-coronavirus-pandemic/12123216.
  3. Christine Ashley et al, Journal of Advanced Nursing: The psychological well-being of primary healthcare nurses during COVID-19: A qualitative study. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jan.14937.
  4. Margaret Paul, ABC News: Coronavirus pandemic causing anxiety, burnout in most of Australia's healthcare workers. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-16/survey-of-healthcare-workers-mental-health-issues-coronavirus/12772062.
  5. Naomi E. Hammond et al., Australian Critical Care: Impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic on critical care healthcare workers' depression, anxiety, and stress levels. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7762707/.
  6. Dr. Jacqui Pich, NSW Nurses & Midwives’ Association and University of Technology Sydney: Violence in Nursing and Midwifery in NSW: Study Report. Available at https://www.nswnma.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Violence-in-Nursing-and-Midwifery-in-NSW.pdf.
  7. Margaret Paul, ABC News: Coronavirus pandemic causing anxiety, burnout in most of Australia's healthcare workers. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-16/survey-of-healthcare-workers-mental-health-issues-coronavirus/12772062.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/WavebreakmediaMicro

Related Articles

Femtech: technology enhancing women's health

Femtech — technologies specifically designed to positively impact women's health...

Why open data must underpin our nation's COVID vaccination rollout

A slow-paced vaccination rollout could undermine all of Australia's COVID achievements so far.

How will technology really help us meet our national health objectives?

RMIT Technology Professor Kate Fox discusses which health technologies are likely to become...


  • All content Copyright © 2021 Westwick-Farrow Pty Ltd