3 minute read
The current pandemic has generated ongoing conversations on the topic of self-care, particularly as it relates to frontline workers who are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout. In a recent study at Houston Methodist Hospital, researchers determined that working longer shifts, experiencing more loss of life, PPE supply shortages and fears of infecting family and loved ones were all factors contributing to burnout among frontline ICU workers.1
In a 2017 literature review regarding work stress and altered biomarkers, authors Siegrist and Li cite the Effort-Reward Imbalance Model as a likely explanation for alterations in biometric markers resulting from work-related stress, including heart rate variability, altered blood lipids and risk of metabolic syndrome.2 This suggests that the effects of COVID-19 on frontline workers extend beyond psychological stress and infection to chronic disease.
Given these findings, it is particularly important to find time and cost-efficient methods of attenuating work-related stress. The Effort-Reward Imbalance Model suggest a possible solution: human charging stations.
Although we are accustomed to thinking of charging as “plugging in,” the idea behind a human charging station would be the requirement for all frontline workers to unplug for 15 minutes at pre-specified intervals during their work shifts. In order to make this efficient, a checklist protocol would include the following three stages:
- Vitals: temperature, pulse ox and blood pressure to monitor for physical illness.
- A healthy snack including water, electrolyte fluid or fruit juice, fresh or dried fruit and healthy protein (hard boiled eggs, cheese cubes, yogurt), all of which should be readily available from the hospital’s food service.
- Five minutes in a quiet room for structured relaxation such as diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness or guided imagery. This would be a dimly lit room with comfortable seating: no cell phone usage of any sort allowed.
It is critical that clinicians remain uninterrupted during the recharging protocol, regardless of medical emergencies that might arise. In addition to protecting their physical and psychological well-being, these recharging breaks would enable frontline workers to be more alert and make better decisions.
Given the opportunity for self-care, the human charging stations are also a method of refilling the emotional well for empathy and compassion that is so critical for caregiver-patient relationships. Such relationships have been proven to improve patient outcomes within a variety of healthcare settings.3
Since Dr. Atul Gawande introduced the checklist as a method of improving patient safety and outcomes during surgical procedures,4 checklists have become an integral part of quality improvement measures in a variety of hospital settings.5 Using a simple checklist as part of a structured protocol can help to rebalance hospital work environments, providing frontline workers with much needed self-care and protecting the health and safety of patients and clinicians alike.