COVID-19: New report finds physicians at highest risk for these serious conditions

By Physician Sense
Published May 17, 2020

Key Takeaways

Ready or not, here we come. As of writing this on a lovely, clear-blue East Coast morning, 31 out of the 50 Nifty United States are reopening, according to the New York Times. Each news outlet has its own criteria for determining state status. The Times classifies states as Reopening, Regional reopening, Reopening soon, and Shut down. Four states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, are currently shut down. To the Times, reopening means the end of a stay-home order (this may or may not include an end to social distancing), a reopening is permitted in a major sector (such as restaurants), or reopening is permitted over smaller sectors.

The new case numbers cited by the Times are all over the place. In Alaska, for example, where the stay-at-home order expired on April 24, there’s a distinct downward trend line. But in Alabama, where the order expired on April 30, the opposite is true. Unfortunately, only time will tell if we’re doing this right. But, here are some more immediate developments:

Weekend headlines

  • Healthcare consumers now have another option for an FDA-authorized, at-home COVID-19 test. This new test comes in addition to one from Rutgers University, which uses saliva and was approved by the FDA last week. While this is a step in the right direction of expanding test access, there’s still a way to go on that front. More on that later. 

  • CNN reports that Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the President’s coronavirus task force, is becoming increasingly critical of how the CDC gathers COVID-19 data. Birx has said that she believes the organization’s data collection methods are dated, leading to inaccuracies and delays in new case and death statistics.

  • Business Insider reports that the head of Trump’s vaccine task force owns about $10 million in stock of a company that has received federal funding and is developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • The New York Times reports that the federal government is investigating a vast fraud network that may have stolen millions in American unemployment payments.

  • 8,000 people are under a new quarantine in Shulan, China, Global Times reports.

  • A recent PolitiFact fact check debunks the claim that the Gates Foundation will profit from a coronavirus vaccine in the UK.

Looking ahead

Here’s what we’re keeping an eye on this week:

Physician and healthcare worker mental health

Have you seen this new report from the United Nations? It’s the most comprehensive outlook on the mental health impact of COVID-19 that we’ve seen to date. It also puts physicians and other healthcare workers toward the top of its list of at-risk populations. The preliminary data are hard to ignore:

  • 47% of Canadian healthcare workers reported a need for psychological support.

  • 50% of Chinese healthcare workers reported high rates of depression, 45% said they had a high level of anxiety, and 34% said they had insomnia.

  • In Pakistan, 42% of HCPs said they had moderate and 26% said they had severe psychological distress.

The UN made 3 broad recommendations for how countries should be addressing the mental health pandemic. Here’s how they might be tailored to specifically assist physicians: 

  • Apply a whole-of-society approach to promote, protect, and care for mental health: Whole of society. That means physicians, too. Not just the people that they care for. Any policies that address the health impacts of COVID-19 should also take account of the mental health impact — especially of those who must care for others.

  • Ensure widespread availability of emergency mental health and psychosocial support: This needs to happen at the physician-employer level. Any organization that employs physicians and other HCPs must leverage its existing mental health resources (and possibly bring in more) to support its employees. This should be a proactive — not reactive — approach.

  • Support recovery from COVID-19 by building mental health services for the future: The transition out of the pandemic is an opportunity to restructure the healthcare system in a way that lessens physician burnout. Yes, that means baking more mental health support into the system for doctors, but also treating the cause of the issue, as outlined by this recent New England Journal of Medicine Perspective piece.

The takeaway: Physicians must make self-care as great a priority as patient care. And as we move past the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to create a more sustainable healthcare model, from the perspective of physician mental health, presents itself. We must take advantage of this opportunity.

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