It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic strained hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics to their breaking point — and the healthcare workers that operate them.

We saw first-hand the effects of stress and burnout in healthcare workers. Whether it was nurses on the frontlines or pharmacists serving local communities, the effects were felt worldwide. While the COVID-19 pandemic is an extreme example, the reality is that healthcare burnout was an issue long before the pandemic.

The mental health of healthcare workers is a top priority for pharmacy managers, which is why it’s crucial to know the signs of burnout in healthcare workers and how to manage them effectively. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of burnout, how to recognize the symptoms, and ways to manage burnout in healthcare workers.

What is Healthcare Burnout?

Healthcare provider burnout is a combination of exhaustion, depersonalization from one’s work, and low professional efficacy as the result of long-term workplace stress. This chronic mental strain can have detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of employees. In extreme cases, burnout has been correlated with substance abuse and depression.

However, the negative effects of burnout aren’t limited to the wellbeing of healthcare workers — they can also have harmful consequences in patient care. Those that face healthcare burnout can have impaired attention leading to errors impacting patient safety and putting one’s pharmacy at risk for lawsuits. For example, if a pharmacy is constantly understaffed during peak times, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians may begin to experience burnout from a chaotic work environment leading to an increase in the chances of making a prescription error.

Pharmacists are at higher risk of burnout due to the nature of the portion of their job that gets reimbursed, the responsibility they carry, and the long hours. Additionally, many also have schedules that are not conducive to a person’s health, such as working long night shifts or split shifts. Because of this, it’s also difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance for many healthcare workers. For instance, nurses and pharmacists also often have some weekend shift responsibility in a given month, which often splits days off and creates an unpredictable schedule.

Not to mention that the work is physically demanding. Pharmacists often endure long hours of standing and walking, which can lead to long-term effects on veins, leg muscles, posture, and joint health.. All of this puts tremendous strain on a healthcare worker’s mental health and physical well-being.

A recent survey of front-line workers by the Kaiser Family Foundation took a look at the toll on healthcare workers from the coronavirus pandemic. The survey found that, of the 1,327 respondents, 55% reported being burned out. In addition, around 62% reported a decline in their mental health, while 16% saw an increase in alcohol or drug use.

Healthcare burnout is more than just feeling overworked. It’s a combination of the environment around us and the biology of our body’s response. The effects of burnout can impact the wellbeing of healthcare workers, lead to increased turnover in the workforce, and have detrimental effects to patient care.

What Causes Burnout in Healthcare Workers?

To help you understand healthcare worker burnout and how you can prevent it in your pharmacy, it’s first important to understand what causes it. Admittedly, this can be a tall order. Burnout is often associated with heavy workloads or understaffing, but there can be many causes. It is often the result of multiple issues, building on top of one another until the person reaches their breaking point.

Take a look at your workplace and ask yourself: what’s it like working in your pharmacy? A chaotic environment, such as an understaffed pharmacy during peak seasons, can physically and mentally strain existing workers. Stressful situations like long fill queues, lines of waiting patients, and exposure to sick patients can also cause emotional distress.

There are also unavoidable circumstances, like the COVID-19 pandemic. But even regular occurrences like flu season can cause burnout, especially for pharmacies. Why? Flu season results in long days of non-stop vaccinations and no time to bill for them properly, creating a “pile-up” of work for pharmacists.

Symptoms of Healthcare Worker Burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen right away and often, the signs aren’t obvious. It typically onsets gradually in phases, with symptoms worsening as time passes. Here are some common symptoms to look out for in your team:

1. If the person is overworked and unappreciated at work, they can start to experience the onset of stress. The common signs to look out for here are anxiety, the inability to focus, irritability, headaches, and fatigue. This may lead to low levels of productivity and avoidance of responsibilities.

2. The second phase is symptoms of chronic stress. Here, the person’s behavior gets more aggressive and cynical. They also tend to avoid social interactions and refuse to perform basic duties. They will also show signs of chronic exhaustion, procrastination, and apathy towards their work.

3. Stage three is burnout. Here, the person’s behavior changes completely, marked by pessimism and self-doubt. They also prefer total social isolation, avoiding company outings and speaking to others at work.

4. If left untreated, burnout eventually becomes full-fledged depression, with constant physical and mental fatigue. At this point, recovery typically requires time away and intervention from a mental health professional.

How to Manage Healthcare Burnout

As a pharmacy owner or manager, it is recommended to understand the state of morale on your team. Luckily, you can do a lot to prevent burnout. Have regular surveys or individual meetings to catch up on the well-being of your staff. Promoting a culture that supports well-being in the workplace and taking steps to ensure your employees don’t feel isolated in the workplace may allow you to uncover any stress factors and work to improve them.

Work-life balance should be a top priority. When possible, offer flexible schedule options and optimize clinical workflows to increase efficiency and help mitigate burnout. Allowing staff to take uninterrupted paid time off can also help employees feel recharged.

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Support Your Teams with DocStation

Using digital tools can drive your pharmacy toward reduction of pharmacists’ and technicians’ workload, which can lower physical and mental stress. DocStation makes direct patient care easy, from automating the analysis and identification of intervention opportunities to billing for the administration and counseling for each administered vaccine, with the end result being payment for the care they are providing to patients. This can help save tremendous time and effort, so your pharmacists can focus on other tasks — or take a well-deserved break.

The fact is that bouts of stress/burnout still plague health care workers, and it’s up to each of us to influence our working environment. Pharmacy owners must pivot their business models from pills to patients in order to grow new revenue sources…the health of the business and the wellbeing of the team depends on it. By providing tools that advance pharmacy care in a streamlined way, you can empower your team to practice at the top of their license and achieve greater workplace engagement to combat the risk of burnout.

About DocStation

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Get started today and discover how easy it is to get paid for the services you provide every day when you partner with DocStation.

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