As clinicians adopted social distancing in their professional and personal lives to prevent coronavirus infection to themselves, their patients, and their families, healthcare organizations had to find new ways to provide support for the mind, body, and spirit of their nurses and other healthcare professionals working in incredibly difficult environments and under almost unimaginable stresses. Initial research shows that the emotional toll from the pandemic on the healthcare workforce has been severe.
To help clinicians cope, organizations adopted new tools, platforms, and processes to maintain and even expand their care for their healthcare professionals in a virtual world. The virtual tools and platforms advanced during the pandemic have become invaluable new resources for addressing immediate emotional stressors and building resiliency among clinical staff at the unit and organizational levels.
During the pandemic in 2020, AMN Healthcare made approximately 50,000 placements of healthcare professionals at hospitals and other healthcare facilities across the nation; many of those included multiple consecutive placements for nurses and other practitioners who accepted consecutive assignments in Covid-19 hotspots across the nation. This was a historic mobilization of travel healthcare professionals that rushed care providers to where they were needed most. Caring for patients during the pandemic resulted in unprecedented levels of stress for clinicians who needed emotional support but were untethered from home, family, friends, and traditional support groups and mechanisms.
The first task was to transpose all support services to telehealth, especially mental health counseling, and to expand services as needed to handle the stresses of the pandemic. Free counseling was offered to caregivers and their family members, including on-the-spot sessions, available through video conferencing. The clinical team that supports travel healthcare professionals was educated in psychological first aid, so they could provide a safe space for clinicians, quickly spot potential problems, and offer appropriate support to intervene.
Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs, which are sometimes overlooked as helpful support programs that are quickly available to team members, also provided all their services in an expanded virtual space. To reduce the common stressors that affect all of us, but which can be a particular burden in times of greater-than-usual stress, healthcare professionals were provided free financial planning and resources and legal support and guidance during the pandemic.
One area of rapid innovation during the pandemic is in mobile technology for the healthcare workforce. Though mobile applications were under development and in use prior to the pandemic, the necessity of social distancing and telehealth for clinicians and working from home for many nonclinical healthcare personnel increased their demand and widespread use. At AMN, mobile applications allow travel clinicians to manage all business aspects of their work, from time and pay details and storing their credentials to arranging their next job placement and onboarding. Other apps facilitate their clinical work, including multiple methods of video conferencing with patients, their families, and colleagues, along with interpretation services for limited English proficiency and deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. The result is that travel clinicians can manage critical aspects of their work from their smart phones.
The importance of caring for clinicians in virtual space won’t end as the pandemic subsides. Stress, and especially emotional stress, can peak many times during and after a crisis, through post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges, requiring ongoing support long after the event.
The future of caring for caregivers has been enriched by the lessons learned and innovations necessitated by the pandemic, and the result is enhanced capabilities for seamless care for the mind, body and spirit of clinicians. Virtual programming won’t replace in-person programming completely, but it will enhance it through a melding of distance and direct encounters. In fact, there will soon be no distinction between the two. The result should be a richness of support for caregivers by healthcare organizations, which could help relieve emotional burdens caused by the pandemic and the stress of working in a care environment of the future increasingly impacted by shortages of all types of healthcare professionals and the growing complexity of patient care.