Frontline healthcare workers across the world are facing unimaginable challenges, pushing on to deliver care after 18 grueling months entrenched in the pandemic.
Bridget Duffy, MD — Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications — has witnessed harrowing scenes in the US health system and is working to determine what healthcare leaders, governments and technology companies can do to protect the physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of nurses, doctors and other frontline healthcare workers.
“Healthcare workers are exhausted, burnt out and fearful of bringing COVID-19 home to their families,” Dr Duffy said. “Nurses in particular are at risk— they have the most direct, hands-on patient contact, and face the greatest risk of infection of all healthcare workers. In many scenarios, PPE has been inadequate, leaving nurses feeling unsafe in their working environment. “The fatigue that is setting in is not good. There was a public health crisis of burnout and cognitive overload before the pandemic — now it is amplified. We will see people with post-COVID stress disorder syndrome, it is real, and this is a global issue.”
One of Dr Duffy’s major concerns is that people will choose to leave the healthcare profession in droves and people will choose to not enter nursing or medical school.
“If we don’t fix the system issues, we will lose a generation of practitioners and that will cripple healthcare systems around the globe. We need to remove the preventable trauma and deploy technology that keeps people safe and enables them to do their jobs more easily, and we need to do it now.”
If there’s anything positive to come from the pandemic, it’s the drive that propels the industry to move faster to design environments that protect and connect the healthcare workforce and restore joy amongst those in the profession. Dr Duffy explained that a new declaration of safety is being drafted to safeguard the physical and psychological safety of healthcare workers. The standard should focus on PPE as well as technology (PPET) that enables healthcare staff to communicate safely with colleagues, creating a connected care team through voice.
“We need some basic standards around protecting the physical safety of our healthcare workforce, as well as those that ensure psychological and emotional wellbeing.” “We’re going to need to rebuild trust and put in assurances that we can protect the physical safety of healthcare workers. This is why the new Vocera Smartbadge has a dedicated panic button with real-time location and broadcast capabilities — if a nurse is subjected to violence, he or she can hit the panic button, which will broadcast to the local hospital security or the police,” Dr Duffy explained.
“We want nurses and other front-line team members to go to work with this device knowing they are safe. Having the badge means that a health worker is never alone, when they are isolated in a patient’s room or elsewhere within the hospital.”
Communication is at the core of safety, so PPE needs to include technology that keeps people safe. According to Dr Duffy, the greatest risk to healthcare staff is taking on and off their PPE to contact a colleague or get the supplies they need to do their job. They should not have to risk contamination to reach their colleagues.
“Voice-activated, hands-free technology would enable them to stay safe, connected to their care team and at the bedside providing the best possible care to patients.”
Historically, psychological wellbeing has been seen as a ‘soft’ concern. Dr Duffy explained that, as a result of the pandemic, most institutions in the US are appointing senior roles to address the wellbeing of staff. One U.S. hospital implemented a distress index to help measure and monitor staff wellbeing. The index, powered by human-centered technology, allows staff to record on a scale of one to five, how distressed they are on a given day. A high distress response is immediately routed to a support system. Health workers are witnessing numerous traumas every day, so it is vital that support and resources are available to them.
“The pandemic has forced us to separate loved ones at their greatest time of need. There are technologies that can restore humanity at the bedside by connecting the patient with their loved ones. We now have technology that allows us to take video and photos and connect families in a secure way.”
Dr Duffy explained that Vocera can broadcast to a whole family simultaneously, creating a connected community around the patient.
“It is our hope to restore humanity through improved smart communication that creates a connected care team inside and outside the walls of the hospital. “With a connected care team, features like our panic button, and a smart workflow management system that alleviates cognitive overload, we can design a healing healthcare ecosystem in which people will want to work and where patients will receive the compassionate care they deserve.”