New figures show the pandemic’s impact on health professionals

OVer two years into the pandemic, a global emergency medicine professionals survey reveals that 62% reported one or more COVID-19-related burnout symptoms.

Burnout reported by 62% of healthcare workers

In a study recently published in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine, the EUSME (European Society for Emergency Medicine) surveyed 1,925 emergency medicine practitioners (physicians, nurses, and paramedics) in January and February 2022.

62% of all healthcare workers reported burnout, with high levels of depersonalisation (47%) and emotional exhaustion (46%), but also feelings of personal demotivation (48%). Women reported more burnout than men (64% vs. 59%), as did nurses compared to physicians (73% vs. 60%).

Younger professionals with less work experience reported higher burnout, with 74% of those with less than five years in the field expressing distress, compared to 60% of those with 10 years of experience. High levels of burnout were related to frequent staff shortages (70% vs. 37% of those who were adequately staffed) and a higher risk of wanting to leave (87% vs. 40% of those who did not want to leave). Only 41% of respondents said they had access to support programmes.

Physicians suffering from burnout must be supported

According to the study authors, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-term problems related to staff shortages, limited resources, hospital overcrowding and lack of professional recognition. In addition, it has led to a fear of infection and the need to wear and remove personal protective equipment frequently.

"The level of burnout found means that these healthcare workers deserve clinical evaluation and professional support," EUSEM president Dr. Abdo Khoury (Besançon University Hospital or CHU - Besançon, France), stated about the study in a press release. "Worryingly, less than half of those who responded to the survey (41.4 per cent) said they had access to psychological support, either in-person or at a distance", he added.

A physician suffering burnout will have negative effects on patients

Healthcare workers in burnout may resort to alcohol or drugs, or develop post-traumatic stress disorder and are susceptible to suicide, Dr. Khoury said. He added that the exodus of large numbers of these essential workers will lead to further staff shortages, worsening the situation for those who remain in the field.

"An overworked and stressed emergency medicine worker will also have a negative effect on patients," he said. He considered that "burnout can manifest as a distant or indifferent attitude to work, as well as reduced productivity and efficiency. It can lead to lower-quality care and an increase in medical errors."

Dr. Khoury considered that the need to wear personal protective equipment and the resulting fear of being infected had an additional burden that is not yet sufficiently recognised. For the EUSEM president, we cannot be sure if we are in the beginning of the end of the pandemic, or going through a temporary pause. In any case, he perceives that emergency medicine specialists took a particularly heavy burden and are suffering for it. “Urgent measures are needed to reduce burnout and, therefore, to encourage those who are thinking of leaving the profession to think again”, Dr. Khoury adds.