July 11, 2020
John V. Jiao, MD
The health care industry is seen as one of the most hazardous environments to work in. A health care worker is constantly exposed to different kinds of safety and health hazards every day. These range from biological exposure through diseases to an array of chemicals.
Healthcare workers could have difficulty keeping their own health in check. Over-working due to long shift hours, the uneven patient-to-health care provider ratio, and work-related stress, all take a toll in the health of healthcare workers.
Health care workers are expected to deliver care and services to the sick and the ailing. Whether as a doctor, nurse or as a laboratory technician, all strive to provide the utmost care to patients. But can health care workers say the same for themselves? Are they always in perfect shape or good health? In other words, are the healthcare workers healthier than their patients?
Most people view health care providers as immune to injury or illness. Health care facilities and services are within a health care worker’s reach, yet they get the least of these services.
According to a research conducted by Williams et. al. (1998) and the confederation of British Industry (1997), there are high levels of both physical and psychological ill health among health care workers. A review of employee stress in a healthcare setting across 17 countries found that majority of countries experience high levels of stress and strain (Lambert & Lambert, 2001).
Poor psychological health and high level of sickness absence within the healthcare professionals are likely to lead to poorer quality of life as well as patient care. Hsu and Kernohan in 2006 have suggested obtaining accurate information about the factors that contribute to the problem. Furthermore, specific interventions were deemed necessary in order to help improve the wellbeing of healthcare workers.
In the Philippines, the health of healthcare workers has received very minimal attention and there are only a handful of studies related to this being done. Most institutions fail to address health concerns due to lack of workforce. This is the reason why they are being forced to do long shift hours. Other institutions simply lack the budget to support their employed health care workers.
Reader’s Digest and Nielsen Media conducted the First Asia Health Survey in 2006 across seven Asian countries including the Philippines. The result of the survey state that Filipinos are the most stressed-out. Two out of five Filipinos (approximately 43%) are affected by stress-related illness. In connection to this, WHO (2014) stated that stress, especially that which is related to work, is the second most frequent health problem affecting both physical and mental health.
Brand et al. in 2017 conducted a systematic review of whole-systems approaches to improving the health and wellbeing of healthcare workers. They identified 11 studies which had positively affected the physical and mental health of the study participants using workplace health promotion interventions.
A Mentalization Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program conducted among the staff of a mental health institution was one of the studies in the systematic review. It resulted in a significant reduction in the psychological distress as well as the levels of anxiety of the study participants.
Some studies were focused on improving physical health by aiming for healthy BMI levels through sets of exercises and other activities. The review also advocated for workplace champions as they are identified effective in some studies. These are the people who coordinate and communicate healthy workplace programs.
The systematic review recommends identifying and responding to the needs as well as engaging the staff at every level. The development of adaptive and responsive workplace programs was strongly recommended to promote a healthy psychosocial work environment. Additional recommendations were targeted at the upper management level. The systematic review suggests having visible leadership and support.
It is of utmost importance to address the health of the healthcare workers. It must be ensured that the workforce is adequately trained and healthy in order for them to perform their duties well. The approach to this matter should be proactive and preventive. The oaths as health care providers direct health care workers to act on the best interest of the patient and to do no harm. To be able to do this, the health care workers should prioritize their health so that they could give their best and avoid harming their patients.