The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a prolonged increase in workload and stress for specialists in many healthcare sectors, but this has been particularly visible in emergency medicine (EM). A survey by the European Society for Emergency Medicine (EUSEM) of emergency medicine professionals in 89 countries showed that 62% of respondents had at least one symptom of burnout syndrome and 31.2% had two. The results of the survey are published today in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine.
The article shows that the chronic problems facing EM specialists, such as understaffing, limited resources, overcrowding and lack of recognition, have been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic.
The level of burnout seen means that these healthcare workers deserve professional clinical assessment and support. Worryingly, less than half of survey respondents (41.4%) reported having access to such psychological support, either face-to-face or remotely. »
President of EUSEM Dr Abdo Khoury, Department of Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care, CHU de Besançon, Besançon, France
“Burnout in healthcare professionals can lead to alcohol and drug abuse and even suicide. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another common manifestation of professional burnout, and it can have devastating long-term consequences for the individual.”
It is also troubling that many of those affected by burnout were considering changing careers and this was more prevalent among young professionals than among those who were older and more experienced. This would necessarily lead to understaffing, at least in the short term, and would only make matters worse for those left behind.
“An EM worker who is overworked under stress will also have a negative effect on patients,” Dr. Khoury said. “Burnout can manifest as an aloof or indifferent attitude at work, as well as reduced productivity and efficiency. It can lead to lower quality care and increased medical errors.”
Emergency medicine specialists have been frontline responders during the pandemic, triaging patients in extremely difficult and pressured circumstances where, in addition, the spread of infection must be prevented. The need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and the resulting fear of becoming infected themselves is an additional burden that may not yet be sufficiently recognized.
“Health authorities rightly put patient satisfaction and well-being at the top of their list of priorities. Yet the overwhelming evidence is that healthcare professionals have unmet needs too, and these are increasing exponentially An important social determinant of health is exposure – or lack thereof – to stressful living conditions It would be hard to find a group of people who have been more stressed during the pandemic than specialists of MI,” the authors of the article state.
“EM specialists have borne and are suffering a particularly heavy burden. Urgent measures to reduce burnout and therefore encourage those who are considering leaving the profession to reconsider their decision are needed. Many interventions have been shown to be effective in reducing burnout, and we were disappointed to see how few seem to be implemented at present. The pandemic has shown how essential they are,” they conclude.
European Society for Emergency Medicine