Researchers reveal ethical and social issues facing healthcare workers during pandemic

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of us staying safe in our homes, frontline healthcare workers faced a sudden influx of patients with the highly contagious and potentially fatal new disease. . This undoubtedly caused a lot of stress for the hospital staff. But what exactly were the most difficult aspects from the point of view of the caregivers themselves? Researchers at Osaka University investigated this by conducting a survey of the experiences of intensive care workers in Japan. The results, published this month in Asian Bioethics Journal, revealed a number of particularly difficult ethical and social issues, including limited communication and life-sustaining treatment.

“We sent a questionnaire to members of the Japanese Society of Critical Care Medicine in July 2020,” says lead author of the study, Yusuke Seino. “We received responses from 189 healthcare workers who had been involved in the treatment of patients with COVID-19. We found that more than half of those polled experienced moral distress during the pandemic. This usually happens when workers find they are unable to provide patients with the care they need. “

While moral distress is not uncommon among intensive care workers, even in normal times, the research team was particularly concerned about it during the pandemic.

“Moral distress can lead to burnout,” says Seino. “This has a negative impact on the healthcare system and is particularly problematic during a pandemic. To make the problem worse, many workers have reported less mental support for healthcare workers in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The research team focused on analyzing the causes of distress and identifying other social and ethical issues encountered.

We found that there were difficulties arising from infection control measures and visitation restrictions. These included limited communication with patients, their families and other healthcare professionals, which made it difficult to make patient-centered decisions and provide appropriate support. There were also difficulties in treating patients, as there were unusual restrictions in place and a lack of protective equipment. We have also identified other significant issues, such as social discrimination against healthcare workers due to widespread fear of COVID-19. “

Kazuto Kato, main author

So what can be done to improve the situation?

This study identifies some key areas that need improvement and suggests potential solutions for them. “There are several measures that could be adopted,” says Kato. “For example, virtual communication could be used in hospitals and increased psychological support could be provided. These measures could help prevent burnout and ensure proper medical care. We believe it is important to address these issues in a timely manner, as the pandemic is still far from over. “


Journal reference:

Seino, Y., et al. (2021) Ethical and social issues for healthcare providers in the intensive care unit during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan: a questionnaire survey. Asian Journal of Bioethics.

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