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COVID-19 physician well-being initiatives embrace family needs

Published Wednesday, April 29, 2020
by Sara Berg

Washington saw its first case of COVID-19 in January and its first death from the virus in February. Three months later, the state continues to battle this crisis that has placed added stress and anxiety on physicians and other health professionals. To address stress during COVID-19, the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine in Seattle provides enhanced services to improve physician well-being while also helping their families.

“We've broadened our scope from focusing on the faculty to really focusing on the whole health care team as part of this,” said Patricia Kritek, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at the UW Medical Center in Seattle. She is also a professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, and the associate dean for faculty affairs for the UW School of Medicine.

Looking at the entire health system, Dr. Kritek and Anne Browning, PhD, assistant dean for well-being at the UW School of Medicine, identified initiatives aimed at reducing stress experienced by physicians and other health professionals.

Weekly online town hall meetings

To meet the needs of those on the front lines of this crisis, UW provides a weekly town hall meeting. This allows for the entire school’s community to solicit questions for leadership online. Each week the team receives up to 400 questions.

Every week, the chief medical officer of the entire health system, chief medical officers and chief nursing officers from each hospital, the medical leader from incident command and an infection preventionist join the meeting. To answer specific questions, guest voices often include palliative care, ethics, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

These meetings often begin with a well-being check-in followed by positive stories about how patients are getting better.

The town halls have “kept the same cohort of people” because “people have gotten familiar and comfortable with the people there,” she said. “They feel like they’re hearing it from the top and that’s intentional.”

“There was a good two-week chunk where PPE was probably one of the more dominant themes and one of the things that the town hall has done is it allows the leaders to speak through their decision-making in their rationale,” said Browning who is also founding director of the UW Resilience Lab. “Without that, occasionally we get the sense of ‘I feel like they’re not telling us something.’”

“Being able to say, ‘You know, we’re actually following what we think is the best for this situation,’ drops that anxiety and just allows for this real sense of transparency,” she said.

Link to the Direct News Article