American College of Physicians urges for well-being support during COVID-19

Physician well-being has taken a beating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders of the American College of Physicians (ACP) are calling for employers to provide tactical support to physicians in order to protect their well-being and continue to provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a news release, the call to action is contained in the ideas and opinions article titled “Getting Through COVID-19: Keeping Clinicians in the Workforce” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The authors say that employers must do more than suggesting stress reduction activities like yoga or meditation and adopt a variety of recommendations. Every health system, hospital, and clinical practice must consider different options along with their frontline staff to decide what would be most impactful and feasible in the work setting, the release say.

Well-being boosting recommendations contained in the article include:

  • Reducing risk of an employee contracting COVID-19 through vaccination mandates, policies, and practices which ensure universal masking and adequate ventilation in work areas as well as proper personal protective equipment
  • Provide professional development and training in areas that clinicians say cause emotional stress or moral injury
  • Provide care team members with time during clinical encounters to address COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation
  • Support clinicians with children by offering flexible work schedules, support groups, and support COVID-19 transmission reducing policies in schools
  • Reduce non-mission-critical administrative tasks
  • Adopt robust policies barring discrimination and harassment to acknowledge and mitigate harm
  • Offer free and confidential mental health resources for clinicians
  • Update credentialing and employment applications to remove unnecessary mental and physical health diagnoses questions
  • Encourage workers to use vacation and professional development days
  • Implement suicide prevention strategies like wellness check-ins for workers in hard-hit areas

“As physicians, educators, peers, and friends of COVID responders, we are gravely concerned about our colleagues’ exhaustion, burnout, and disillusionment,” the authors say in the release. “The adage that no crisis should go to waste presents us with many opportunities to do better – and the ongoing waves of the pandemic creates a new urgency to do so.”

Increased physician retirements

As previously reported, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a bump in physician retirements in 2020.

A study appearing in JAMA found that practice interruption rates were pretty similar throughout the pandemic as they were in 2019, except for a small bump in April 2020 when lockdowns and moratoriums saw many practices stressed. That month 1.14 percent of physicians stopped practicing and did not return compared to 0.33 percent the same month the year prior.

The impact of the pandemic varied by the characteristics of the physician with older physicians being less likely to return after a practice interruption than younger physicians,1.3 percent and 0.34 percent respectively. Female physicians, specialists, physicians in small practices, physicians not practicing in a location with a health professional shortage, and those in metropolitan areas saw much greater practice interruptions in April 2020 than in 2019 but typically had higher rates of return.

The researchers reached their conclusion by analyzing Medicare claims for 100 percent of fee-for-service beneficiaries from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 30, 2020. They defined practice interruptions as months where a physician who had previously billed Medicare did not bill Medicare and an interruption with a return was defined as when a doctor restarts billing Medicare within six months.

This article was originally published by Medical Economics.