Paul Zuidema, Managing Director EMEA at Ergotron, advises how key healthcare workers can look after their own physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of technology
In spite of the current outbreak of COVID-19, a large proportion of the UK population is fortunate enough to be able to continue their everyday roles working from home. However, key workers, such as healthcare professionals, still go into work to continue providing vital services we all rely on to get through this crisis.
More so now than ever, it is visible that healthcare workers undertake one of the most important roles in society, carefully balancing skills and empathy to deliver patient care. Ordinarily, doctors and nurses have to face long hours of physically demanding work and pressure of understaffing, but with the additional strain of COVID-19 adding to the burden, it is absolutely critical that healthcare workers are given the advice and support they need to look after both their bodies and minds.
By optimising their working environment and habits, employers can help care for the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff, and ensure they are as comfortable as possible during this extremely challenging time.
Ensure staff are taking regular breaks
Many healthcare workers will be working even longer hours than usual. Although it is no doubt very difficult for them to make time for themselves while working, especially while under a lot of pressure, it is important that nurses and doctors are encouraged to take regular breaks. To avoid burnout, encourage employees to try taking regular five-minute breaks throughout the day to do something to help them relax. It may even be worthwhile to allocate a ‘quiet’ room for workers to use to rest.
During this time, workers could do some stretches, or try mindfulness – which is a way of paying attention to the present moment by using techniques like meditation and breathing exercises. It has been shown to help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, which in turn makes it easier to manage them. Furthermore, according to psychologists, taking regular breaks can help prevent decision fatigue, and boosts overall productivity and energy levels.
Ease the physical strain
Being a healthcare worker is a physically demanding job. The lengthy shifts worked by many are well-known, and in the current situation, standing and walking for long periods of time are just some of the pressures facing nurses. Over time, this can affect muscles and bones, resulting in back, neck, or other injuries. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, nurses are 48% more likely to have wrist and back sprains and strains. So, it’s unsurprising that 49% reported feeling some level of discomfort while inputting charting data into computerised point-of-care systems. The introduction of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) is central to a caregiver’s role, but it should not be a cause of pain.
One simple yet effective way of minimising the strain on overworked wrists and backs is to focus on clinical design and ergonomic principles. Updating workstations with designed-for-purpose furniture enables more comfortable interaction with technology. For example, a traditional fixed computer at a nurse’s station can be replaced with an adjustable wall-mounted workstation that enables the nurse to sit or stand to enter data. The keyboard and monitor can quickly be adjusted to suit them and means they can work safely and productively.
Integrate technology into the workplace
The migration from paper to electronic health records (EHR) was intended to improve accuracy and efficiency. However, there are commonly-missed workflow implications for nurses. The biggest of these being the need to have technology close at hand. If a nurse has to walk many metres to find a computer, there’s a higher chance that critical patient information will be mislaid or misremembered, with potentially serious consequences. And all that walking means less time spent on patient care.
Forward-thinking healthcare organisations are implementing the Triangle of Care in order to tackle this issue. The Triangle of Care consists of using computer displays to bring the patient and caregiver together. Putting computers in each room, next to patients, means the caregiver has more time with the patient and can record data in the moment. By putting the Triangle of Care in place, caregivers benefit from reduced workloads and stress associated with EHRs. And that extra time with patients in turn increases quality of care, invaluable in the current situation.
As the crisis around COVID-19 unfolds, it is vitally important that we all show our appreciation and gratitude for the key healthcare workers who are truly the ties that bind patients and their care together. It is within the best interests of the patients who rely on them for healthcare professionals to have comfortable work surroundings, and not be overstressed or physically compromised. As the NHS workforce continues its vital work, it is crucial to care for them, so they can continue to care for others.