- The impact of the health crisis on physical and emotional health has meant that 24% of doctors have at some point considered leaving the profession
- Teamwork is a clear protective element for the well-being of doctors, and to reduce the stress and ethical conflicts that occur when making decisions
- These are the preliminary results of a study on the impact of pandemics on the health of healthcare professionals in Catalonia, carried out by the CoMB, the Galatea Foundation and professors from IESE Business School and IEB-UB
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on the physical and emotional health of the general population. But healthcare professionals are a particularly vulnerable group, as they have to cope with the daily stress of being on the frontline of care, a lack of means, the pressure of making difficult decisions on a daily basis and a fear of contagion a. In fact, before the pandemic, several studies had shown that health professionals generally have a worse perception of their own mental health than the general population.
In the midst of the pandemic, preliminary data from a study on the impact of COVID-19 on the health of healthcare professionals, which was carried out by the Galatea Foundation, the CoMB and the professors Núria Mas (IESE Business School) and Judit Vall (Barcelona Economics Institute IEB-UB), confirms that the current health crisis has not only greatly worsened the physical and mental health of doctors, but that the impact has been so great that this group now feels more tired and less prepared to deal with what has been called the “second wave” of the pandemic. This is affirmed by up to 42% of doctors, who face more pessimism in the coming months.
The preliminary data of this study are based on a survey of 1,648 medical doctors in Catalonia who responded between July and August 2020. Going forward, and in collaboration with the Organización Médica Colegial and Mutual Médica, the study will be expanded to include other regions in Spain and other healthcare professionals.
The exhaustion shown by these healthcare workers is also evident by the 24% who say that, at some point over the last few months, they have questioned whether they wanted to continue working in their profession (22% have considered leaving their jobs, while 2% have considered this option more seriously). However, the bulk of the group still maintains a firm commitment to the profession and to their patients, despite the harsh environment they have experienced since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The survey confirms the worsening physical and mental health of medical doctors from several indicators: the frequency with which they experience physical and emotional exhaustion, headaches, stomach ache or back pain; as well as the capacity to deal with problems, among others. The values of these indicators are compared at three different times: before the pandemic, during the outbreak of the first wave (March and April) and during the summer. The worst values are obtained in the March-April period, while during the summer, despite experiencing an improvement in their well-being, they do not recover the levels they experienced pre-pandemic.
The study finds that there are certain groups that show worse health indicators, such as the doctors working in primary care, those who worked at ICUs and emergency services and those who decided to self-isolate during the harshest months of the pandemic to protect their relatives. These groups also show a slower recovery than their peers.
Among primary care doctors (25.7% of the sample), more have considered leaving the profession: 31.7% have considered it at some point, well above the 21.3% of their colleagues in the hospital field and 22.2% in other areas. They also indicate that they feel less prepared to deal with what is left of the pandemic: 48.4% of primary doctors say this is the case, while the same feeling is reported by 44.5% of hospital doctors and 34.8% from other areas.
As for doctors who worked at ICUs and in emergency services, up to 68% stated that at the peak of the pandemic (March-April) they felt tired always or very often (above 57.6% of the total sample), a percentage that before the crisis was 27.7% (18.9% in the total sample) and still remained at 47.4% in July-August (42% in the total sample).
Teamwork acts as a protective element
One of the most positive aspects revealed by this study is the role of teams as protective elements for the health and well-being of doctors. Professionals who work in teams where goals are shared and where there is a “sense of belonging” report better indicators of physical and emotional health than the rest. These professionals face fewer ethical conflicts and less stress in their daily activity, as decisions and problems are shared. According to the survey, up to 31.2% of medical doctors who do not have the support of a “protective team” say they face ethical conflicts frequently, a percentage that drops to 24.5% among professionals who feel integrated and supported by a team.
These preliminary data suggest that group interventions aimed at care teams, such as those being carried out by the Galatea Foundation, can be very useful, both to redirect problematic situations and to restore the well-being of professionals, and to carry out preventive interventions.
The preliminary results of the study Impact of COVID-19 on the health of health professionals make it possible to formulate general recommendations aimed at improving the health of healthcare professionals, reducing risk factors and promoting preventative activity. The authors of the study emphasize that ensuring the physical and mental health of healthcare professionals and, ultimately, “caring for those who care for us” is a key element in ensuring good care for citizens. These are their main recommendations:
- The current health system must be reformed in order to guarantee the protection of the health of the professionals within it and minimize the risk factors favored by the system itself. To do this, we need to move towards having adequate human and financial resources, more autonomy for health professionals and teams, providing training for stress management and complex decision-making, and so on.
- The health of healthcare professionals must be a priority of the health authorities, which must offer adequate care, both in terms of treatment, prevention and the promotion of well-being.
- It is also necessary to promote professional training in relevant areas (e.g. management of emotions, difficulties, etc.) to aid prevention efforts.
- It is essential to promote and support working in teams, as well as to facilitate how they can operate best, as they are one of the main protective elements that the system itself can offer.
About the authors of the study:
Professor and head of the Department of Economics at IESE Business School. PhD in Economics from Harvard University and a degree in Economics from Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). She is a member of the Governing Council of the Banco de España, holder of the Jaime Grego Chair in Healthcare Management and academic director of IESE´s Health Sector Meeting. She was a member of the Advisory Council for the Sustainability and Progress of the Generalitat’s Health System. Her research focuses on the field of health economics, especially the organization of health systems.
Judit Vall Castellón
Applied economist, specializing in the analysis of econometric and quantitative methods. She has a degree in Economics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). She holds a master’s degree from the University of Essex and a doctorate from the University of Maastricht, which she received with a Marie Curie scholarship. Her current research focuses on analyzing the impact of public policies and pension systems on labor market decisions as well as health.
Galatea / CoMB Foundation Team
Working group of professionals from the Galatea Foundation (Antoni Calvo, Anna Mitjans, Mari Pau González and Lucía Baranda), the CoMB (Berenguer Camps, Gerard Serratusell and Sònia Miravet), the WTO (Mª Fe Bravo Ortiz, Domingo Sánchez and Félix Martín) and Mutual Médica (Montse Clarà and Assumpció Torrents) with expertise in research on health professionals and their health, as well as in the demography and working conditions of doctors.
About the Barcelona Medical Association (CoMB)
The Barcelona Medical Association (CoMB) is a democratic corporation, with more than 125 years of history, which brings together all doctors in the counties of Barcelona (currently, more than 35,000 professionals). It represents the profession, defends and supports doctors and ensures good practice in front of the citizens. More than twenty years ago, the institution was a pioneer in designing and launching a program (PAIMM) for the care of doctors with mental health disorders and addictions that has become a national and international benchmark, and the starting point for the subsequent creation of the Galatea Foundation.
About Galatea Foundation
The Galatea Foundation (www.fgalatea.org) offers healthcare services aimed at improving the health and well-being of health professionals. Professionals with severe mental disorders and addictions are treated at the Galatea Clinic, while emotional suffering and less severe conditions are treated through the Foundation’s emotional support service. With the health crisis caused by COVID-19, the Psychological TeleSupport for health and social professionals has been launched. At the same time, the Foundation also carries out preventive and health promotion activities: studies on health, lifestyles and working conditions of professionals, training to promote healthy professional practice, team interventions.
About IESE Business School
IESE is the graduate management school of the University of Navarra. With campuses in Barcelona, Madrid, Munich, New York and São Paulo, IESE offers training for executives in Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Since 1958, the school has formed more than 50,000 entrepreneurs and managers, offering them a personalized and transformative experience. IESE wants to continue to build tomorrow by training leaders who can have a positive and lasting impact on people, businesses and society. This effort has been recognized by the Financial Times ranking, which for the sixth year in a row has positioned IESE as the number one school in the world for executive education.
About the Barcelona Institute of Economics (IEB)
The Institut d’Economia de Barcelona (IEB) is an economics research center that aims to promote and disseminate research, and contribute to the debate and decision-making on economic policy. Founded in 2001 at the University of Barcelona, the IEB received a major boost in 2008 with the establishment of the IEB Foundation, in whose Board of Trustees private companies (Abertis, “la Caixa” and Saba), public institutions participate. (Barcelona City Council) and universities (University of Barcelona and Autonomous University of Barcelona), which is a paradigmatic example of public-private collaboration with the academy. Thanks to research excellence and collaboration between the university, the public sector and business, the IEB has become a leading international research center.