Dr. Dale Healey Writes About Supporting Allied Health Professionals Amid Burnout
Hospital, health care administrators must support all medical professionals – even those behind the scenes
Dr. Dale Healey for MedCityNews
Although the Delta variant of Covid-19 is still a threat, vaccines and education about how the virus spreads and how to protect oneself are giving healthcare industry leaders a little breathing room to reflect and reassess our preparedness for events like this in the future.
The last year and a half has been an “all hands on deck” mentality for healthcare professionals, and burnout of essential workers across the entire spectrum of healthcare has been devastating for many. While we encouraged and celebrated the brave work of nurses and doctors in our communities, we also owe our support and appreciation to lab technicians, radiology technicians, medical assistants and other allied health professionals as they too have held essential healthcare roles over the last 18 months.
The Covid-19 pandemic has given a new sense of urgency for healthcare organizations to shift parts of their business that rely on paper-based documents to digital documents. That’s just one of the findings of a survey of healthcare organizations in a new report.
During the pandemic, the importance of allied healthcare professionals was paramount as they processed hundreds of millions of tests, with the highest peak in the pandemic reaching a startling 2.3 million Covid-19 tests in a single day. Hospital and healthcare systems were not just overrun with tests for Covid-19, but tests resulting from basic health screenings were backlogged as labs everywhere struggled to keep up.
The increase in demand on lab techs and scientists most of 2020 contributed to the extremely high rates of burnout. According to a Mental Health America study, 73% of health care workers reported exhaustion and burnout during the pandemic and 82% sited emotional fatigue. In addition to health care workers at the bedside, those behind the scenes found themselves working overtime, skipping meals and spending extended hours on their feet.
The impact of physical and emotional burnout that comes with long hours on the job, in especially trying times, poses a real threat to a healthcare worker’s ability to deliver high-quality patient care. As leaders in healthcare, team managers and as people, we must prioritize the health and wellness of all industry workers – from the bedside to the lab.
In a step in the right direction, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently said it would make approximately $103 million in American Rescue Plan funding available to “tackle healthcare worker burnout and promote mental health in the industry.”
Scoped to support all healthcare workers from paraprofessionals to public safety officers – especially in medically underserved communities – hopefully we can make some progress.
Fortunately, some organizations are already thinking of innovative solutions to combat this challenge. Hospitals are expanding benefits and services to offer access to chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists and other natural care providers to address the health and wellbeing of their overworked technicians and allied health professionals as well as doctors and nurses.
These kinds of services are proven to provide countless mental and physical health benefits. When prescribed for healthcare support services professionals, often onsite, not only are they more efficient in their work, but they are also inclined to stay in their careers longer-term.
No medical professional completes their best work while suffering from any kind of pain or exhaustion. Providing healthcare industry workers with access to their own complementary and integrative care offerings mitigates pain and boosts energy and endurance in times of extreme stress.
Consider someone in one of healthcare’s support services roles, like laboratory technicians, stretched to their limits in attempt to keep up with the unfathomable number of lab tests to process. If they’re struggling to work efficiently or effectively communicate the results of a test, there is most certainly a trickle-down effect to the provider’s ability to deliver high quality and accurate patient care.
Time and time again we have seen the negative effects of overworked medical professionals. Too often, this type of burnout can lead to more mistakes and worse patient outcomes.
Looking after the entire healthcare workforce’s—including allied healthcare workers’—diminishing mental health and wellbeing should remain a top priority to reduce burnout and foster a positive work environment that makes professionals not only seek out these careers but become high-performing experts in their fields for many decades to come.
The fact is, the people that work in these roles have tremendous impact on patient care, which is highly rewarding. Fortunately, the last year has elevated interest in those pursing education to work in these fields. It’s an attainable and manageable education and training path that gets those passionate about helping others involved in healthcare and their communities without the financial and time commitments of most medical school programs.
If we can prioritize the health of everyone engaged in the care delivery workflow, even in a post-pandemic world, we all stand to benefit from a stronger and larger healthcare workforce, and especially a more efficient and high-quality healthcare experience.