5 tips for helping relieve COVID-related burnout and PTSD among radiology team members

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing burnout and PTSD among healthcare workers, a phenomenon that may require intervention from hospital and radiology practice leaders.

That’s the takeaway from two new analyses, published in prominent medical journal this week. Nearly half of healthcare workers are experiencing some symptoms of post-traumatic stress during the pandemic. And almost 25% report signs of depression, according to a survey of nearly 1,400 individuals in Italy, highlighted Thursday in JAMA Network Open.

“Healthcare workers involved in the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic are exposed to high levels of stressful or traumatic events and express substantial negative mental health outcomes, including stress-related symptoms and symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia,” lead author Rodolfo Rossi, MD, with the University of Rome, and colleagues wrote in the May 28 research letter.

Two imaging experts from University of Colorado’s Department of Radiology touched on the same topic in another analysis, published Tuesday in JACR. Radiologists Nicole Restauri and Alison Sheridan this week urged hospital administrators and fellow physicians to take “proactive steps” to minimize the compounding effects of “high-baseline burnout” and acute stress among the workforce.

“This pandemic has exacerbated stressors in a healthcare system in which physician burnout, a response to workplace stress, is already epidemic,” the pair wrote.

Restauri and Sheridan offered leaders five simple solutions to counter this trend, and the corresponding benefits:

1. Work from home: Build and support an infrastructure that allows radiologists, technologists and other staffers to work remotely. This has the benefit of decreasing exposure to COVID-19, mitigates concerns about contracting it, and promotes scheduling flexibility to maintain family responsibilities.

2. Education and treatment: Bolster staffers’ access to both treatment for, and education about, burnout, PTSD and acute stress disorder. This can occur, for example, through expert panel discussions, with the benefits of increasing awareness among staff, intervening early, and reducing mental health stigma.

3. Think outside the box: Practices should look to deploy nontraditional methods of engaging radiologists, the writers noted, suggesting narrative medicine as one option. This can help docs to cognitively reframe their situation, develop self-compassion, and reinforce “altruism in work.”

4. Leadership communication: Opening up clear lines of communication between management and staff can help instill a sense of safety and stability. Plus, it increases teamwork and the sense of camaraderie.

5. Scheduling input: Gathering feedback from radiologists and other staff members can help to increase engagement, prevent burnout from working long or odd hours, and foster flexibility among the team.

The ACR’s Radiology Well-being Program has several resources posted on its website to further aid in this process, with fitness, sleep and the arts highlighted, the writers noted. You can read Restauri and Sheridan’s full pre-proof piece in Journal of the American College of Radiology here, and the JAMA research letter here.