Telemedicine Mental Health Services: Caring for the Caregivers
At writing of this article, the U.S. has over 630,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The strain on health care providers is immense: equipment and supplies are in short stock, testing capabilities insufficient and time to results vary greatly across the U.S., ICUs beds are filling and yet patients continue to arrive in the E.D. – scared, anxious, and uncertain their fate.
Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, we are still learning its optimal clinical management. New data presents daily. At this time in the virus’ emergence, much about its treatment is evolving. Day to day physicians are adapting, adjusting, evolving the management of COVID-19 patients.
Many physicians thrive in high stake environments (certainly the case with Emergency Medicine) but physicians are currently finding themselves in situations and circumstances that possibly go well beyond that which they could have ever foreseen: working with inadequate personal protective equipment; worrying about their personal safety and infecting their loved one with a deadly virus; making decisions about the potential of rationing care and prioritizing resources….the list goes on.
The emotional impact on physicians is unprecedented.
Physicians are now deploying what they’ve trained their whole lives to do: save lives and put others first. They are in full combat mode. There is little time to think of their own mental health. However, when the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, many clinicians will more fully experience trauma-related emotions: grief, fear, regret, anger, perhaps PTSD.
With the emergence of COVID-19 the healthcare marketplace has seen a remarkable – and long-time coming – expansion of telemedicine services. But psychiatry/psychology telemedicine has been in use for over a decade, is well-established, and has demonstrated equal outcomes when compared to face to face encounters. Many physicians fear seeking traditional counseling due to privacy concerns. Telemedicine offers a confidential, accessible method to gain access to mental health resources.
If your healthcare organization does not already provide for psychiatry or psychology telemedicine services, it’s the simplest and most caring action that could be taken. Make it easy for physicians to obtain resources that promote recovery, resilience, and well-being. Consider offering free or reduced cost access. Physicians who receive professional coaching have reported significant reduction in overall symptoms of burnout.
Finally, consider extending the hours of confidential mental health services (including times that physicians are not at work) and providing coverage to allow physicians to attend day-time appointments. In this way, organizations can facilitate treatment in ways that minimize repercussions.
As a compassionate society we need to ensure that our physicians’ well-being is attended to with the same passion and intensity they gave to society.