By Brooke Faulkner, freelance writer; @faulknercreek
Picture a long day — one that’s longer than most. Maybe you wake up early, have a checklist of morning tasks to do, then head off to catch a flight. Once you land, you have to change, make your way to a work conference, give a speech, and mingle for an hour. Back at the hotel, you unpack, shower, and work some more until 1 a.m., when you can finally sleep.
Exhausting, right? Now imagine that for that entire day, you’re on your feet and working. There’s no flight to relax on and no mingling with people for an hour. During that time, your main goal is to take care of others; you’re solely responsible for their health and well-being. How exhausted would you be then? This is what doctors and nurses go through, and for anyone outside of the healthcare industry, it’s nearly impossible to envision what a week, or even a shift, is like.
What is healthcare provider fatigue?
Healthcare providers work incredibly long hours. Nurses often work 12-hour night shifts — sometimes even longer if there’s a nursing shortage. Doctors may work for double that, especially when they’re new to the job. Indeed, medical residents in the United States can work up to 28 hours in one shift. Without proper rest and sleep, fatigue and burnout can set in. This can impact the individual’s health and well-being, and it can also have negative consequences for patients.
There’s another type of burnout, too: compassion fatigue, a central problem to balancing work and personal life as a nurse. This happens when healthcare providers are emotionally or physically distressed from forming emotional connections with their patients. This often happens when dealing with patients who are going through a serious medical event, like a trauma or a chronic illness. Creating a work-life balance is one of the best ways to combat compassion fatigue.
Consequences of healthcare provider fatigue
When healthcare providers don’t have enough time to rest and sleep, it can result in negative patient outcomes, such as inaccuracies when administering drugs, injuries from accidental needle sticks, surgical errors, and poor operation of medical equipment. Other signs of burnout include:
Impaired cognition and learning ability
Low career engagement
Negative feelings and moods
Poor communication skills
Poor sense of achievement
Slow reaction time
The good news is that burnout is manageable. Healthcare organizations have to treat burnout before it becomes a problem. Once they do so, job performance and the number of errors in patient care will both be improved.
6 ways to improve healthcare provider fatigue
Fatigue isn’t a random occurrence; it’s the culmination of patterns related to scheduling disorganization and poor organizational policies. Since you can point to specific causes of fatigue, the problem can also be fixed with personal and organizational changes.
Being a healthcare professional is an honor, but it’s not without its challenges. Most providers are required to work long hours with few breaks to provide adequate coverage to their patients. The fluctuating workload and constant exposure to life, death and everything in between essentially takes a toll both physically and psychological on healthcare professionals. Working in such a fast-paced, high-demand atmosphere almost non-stop can lead to employee burnout.
When doctors, nurses, or supporting staff becomes physically and emotionally exhausted as a result of work-related stress and pressures, it’s only a matter of time before there is a decline in their performance. Healthcare providers become overwhelmed and are unable to provide the high-quality of care and treatment their patients deserve. This puts the organization, provider, and patient at risk. Some, even become so consumed that they quit, leaving medical practices and hospitals understaffed (which creates higher risks for burnout in other staff who have to pick up the slack).
To minimize the risk of burnout in your healthcare organization, it is imperative to develop a workplace environment that supports the well-being of your staff. First, knowing when an employee is on the verge of a breakdown or burnout is vital. Some signs might include:
Emotional or physical fatigue
Overly sensitive or insensitive to emotional information
Lack of empathy or sympathy for their patients
Withdrawal or isolation
Lack of concentration
Careless or increased mistakes
Poor decision making
Drug or alcohol abuse
Frequent call outs
Get them help
The idea here is preventative measures but in the event that you notice a staff member struggling or experiencing the above-mentioned destructive behaviors like substance abuse, knowing where to send them for help is ideal. This includes recommending an addiction treatment center in Los Angeles or some other city where they can get affordable, confidential help with their addiction or dependency issues.
Other ways to help your providers
Healthcare organizations have a responsibility to ensure their providers are physically and mentally capable of providing adequate services to their patients. A major part of this means providing a working environment where staff members well-being is a priority and they feel supported, heard, and encouraged. Here are some things you can do:
Offer solutions to their problems
Your employees need to know that they have someone they can turn to if there are problems in the workplace. Upper management and/or the HR department need to not only make themselves available to listen but must be willing and ready to provide assistance where they can. Whether that’s helping them to resolve a conflict with a coworker, looking into more advanced technology to improve productivity and decrease their workload, or updating breakrooms to make them more accommodating, it is the responsibility of the organization to make sure that they are meeting the needs of their providers.