The COVID-19 outbreak has interrupted nearly every aspect of modern life, with major impacts on medical practices all over the world. With healthcare systems overwhelmed, one challenge in these unprecedented times is managing the effects of the virus while also practicing “business as usual” in taking care of your patients.
Stay Up to Date
One of the most important things you can do as a physician during a pandemic is to stay informed. With all the media hype and the sometimes wild theories about the outbreak circulating on the internet, this can be more challenging than it sounds.
The World Health Organization is an excellent source of reliable information. You should also bookmark the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, paying particular attention to its guidelines for healthcare professionals. Returning to the guidelines frequently is important, as these have been updated three times in March alone to reflect changing priorities. Visit Health Clarity for a continually updated collection of COVID-19 resources and tools from Wolters Kluwer Health.
Staying informed is not only important for your clinical practice, but it also allows you to share information with your patients so that they, too, know how to protect themselves and their families.
Support Your Patients’ Mental Well-Being
The effects of this outbreak on individuals and society have been profound, and many patients may be feeling anxious. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center notes that similar high rates of anxiety were seen during past stressful events such as the SARS or H1N1 outbreaks, mass shootings or the events of 9/11. By staying armed with the latest, most accurate information possible, you can make it easier for your patients to make sense of the pandemic. Ultimately, this allows them to focus their attention on the health issues they’re already dealing with and prevent further complications from the coronavirus.
Clinicians should also share advice with their patients. In an age of 24/7 news coverage, it’s possible to get constant updates on what’s happening in the world, but this can lead to information overload. Encourage patients to limit their time spent following media coverage of this outbreak. Also remind them that while a healthy lifestyle is always important, it’s especially so at this time. Eating a balanced diet, exercising and getting enough sleep are good ways to maintain physical and mental resilience, as is engaging in safe, enjoyable activities such as listening to music and spending time in nature. All of these habits help to support good quality of life for your patients.
Protect Patient Care
Good patient care doesn’t change in times of a pandemic, and Vanderbilt reiterates the basic procedures all clinicians need to continue to follow. These include following universal precautions and clinical policies and procedures for infection control, hand-washing frequently and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
That said, clinicians and patients must also acknowledge that even the basics of patient care might need to look different at this time. The American Academy of Family Physicians created a checklist for physician offices to follow during the pandemic, suggesting that physicians:
- Consider alternatives to traditional face-to-face patient encounters such as telemedicine so that care can continue in a safer format.
- Review the personal protective equipment they have available (hand sanitizers, gloves, gowns, eye protectors and so on) and instruct on and enforce their use so that face-to-face encounters, when they do occur, can be safer.
- Make patient contact safer by implementing a separate entrance or area for infected patients to be seen.
All of these protocols can allow patient care to continue even under these extraordinary circumstances.
Physician self-care is often overlooked in maintaining a “business as usual” approach. A recent piece in BMJ Opinion notes that self-care for clinicians is vital so that they can continue to care for the patients that need them. One strategy is simple but often hard for doctors to follow: taking breaks to recharge. Doctors should also perform “body scans” on themselves and check for signs of hyperarousal. Prioritizing sound sleep is essential, too. Dealing with this outbreak is more likely to be a marathon than a sprint, and staying rested for the duration is important.
The COVID-19 outbreak is of major concern for healthcare professionals around the world, particularly in highly affected areas. Staying informed about this ever-changing situation is critical to good clinical practice and to keep your patients informed. However, in many ways healthcare at this time also remains a matter of business as usual: The basics of good clinical practice haven’t changed, and in times when pressure on clinicians is greater than ever and healthcare systems are strained, learning self-care strategies has also become more important than ever.