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Providing Care with Grace in Stressful Times

One common thread that comes up in every conversation I have with pediatric practitioners is that we are living through unprecedented times. Pediatric practices in cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike are burned out, and together are facing what seems like an insurmountable combination of increased patient demands and decreased practice resources.

I truly believe that we cannot scale our way out of this pandemic. Instead of using the same strategies we had 3 years ago, we need to innovate and think creatively to thrive today and in the future. If we don’t, we run the risk of letting down the patients we serve and making our working lives even more challenging.

So, how can we provide care with grace in the middle of these stressful times? Unprecedented times require new ways of thinking.

The Collective Challenges We Face

It’s unusual that so many pediatric practices around the country are facing similar challenges at the same time. There have been natural disasters which had common regional impact, but not on such a wide scale. There are many factors at play, but here are some of the most urgent.

Healthcare worker shortages

According to a new report, nearly 18% of healthcare workers have quit their jobs in the last 18 months, while a further 12% have been laid off. That’s a total of 30% of healthcare professionals who are no longer available for work.

Some are exhausted by the long hours and increased demands of their jobs, which have generally not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in pay (even more challenging for independent pediatric practices) or universal appreciation by patients and families. Some have even chosen or been forced to leave because of vaccine mandates.

Increased patient demands

Even if your practice has the full complement of team members that it had before the pandemic, chances are it still feels like you’re short-staffed. That’s because practices are also dealing with massively increased patient demands.

Some pediatric practices report that they’re receiving more than four times the number of calls they received before COVID-19, while others have been forced to make hard choices about postponing necessary well visits due to rising demand for COVID-related services like vaccines, testing, notes to return to school and more.

Burnout

This pandemic has been exhausting not just at work, but on the home front as well. So many pediatric professionals are drained and burned out because they’re being asked to be on high alert 24/7, both at home and at work.

In wave after wave of COVID-19, we’re being asked to step up and give more, with no additional resources or respite in sight. This continual worry, stress, and anxiety certainly impacts our own health.  

What Should We Be Doing Differently?

Despite these challenges, we are fully capable of meeting the needs of our patients and keeping our mental health in check. First we need to stop trying to conduct business as usual and give ourselves permission to think creatively. By innovating new solutions to the problems we’re facing instead of trying to scale our way out of it, we can learn how to serve patients in a more sustainable way.

Here are some ideas of where to start. 

  • Ask for help
    Many pediatric practices are overwhelmed by demands related to COVID-19. Instead of trying to tackle them all, ask for help. This could be anything from recruiting gap-year medical students to fill in necessary holes in your team schedule to offloading all COVID testing to a local community health clinic or urgent care facility.
  • Streamline well visits and other necessary treatments
    Instead of trying to get everything done, focus on what really matters. Well visits and other treatments can be streamlined, and unnecessary screenings and surveys postponed until after things normalize.
  • Think about connecting with families en masse
    One absolute reality of 2021 is that we’re all struggling. Instead of trying to offer resources to patients and their families one-on-one, start thinking about ways to connect with families en masse. You can refer questions to a once-weekly Facebook Live, or put resources on your website so they’re more accessible to families without them having to call your front desk and ask.

Getting Through the Pandemic with Kindness, Patience, and Grace

While there are many new and innovative ways to serve patients, the best way by far is to concentrate on being kind to yourself and others. With kindness, patience, and grace, we can focus on what matters most – our patients, and their families.

Sue Kressly
kiddrsue@gmail.com


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