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Inside Medical Liability

Fourth Quarter 2020




Facing A Parallel Pandemic

Back in August, in a New England Journal of Medicine Perspective, Dr. Victor Dzau, Dr. Darrell Kirch, and Dr. Thomas Nasca noted that “The Covid-19 crisis has revealed with painful clarity the fraying threads of the U.S. clinician workforce,” and called for action “to get ahead of two pandemics, the spread of the virus today and the harm to clinician well-being tomorrow.”

By Susan Beach


Only a few months later, healthcare professionals continue to face polar-opposite challenges.

Thousands of medical practices have closed during the pandemic as patients forego routine care for fear of contracting the virus or because they have lost their jobs and health insurance. Clinicians who have survived so far are worried about keeping their doors open. About half of primary care doctors report that their mental exhaustion was at an all-time high, according to a survey by the Larry A. Green Center in collaboration with the Primary Care Collaborative.

By contrast, as COVID-19 hospitalizations reach all-time highs, many other healthcare professionals are once again stretched to the breaking point. They face scope of practice issues when asked to step into emergency roles and the ethical dilemma of rationing scarce resources. They worry about getting sick themselves or taking the virus home to their families.

As healthcare professionals confront these complicated issues, more and more frequently they are suffering burnout. Some will leave the profession; some will continue to work while suffering anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorder, and worse.

MPL companies have long recognized the importance of well-being in the medical community. Insurers, hospitals, and health systems offer online resources and wellness toolkits to help their insureds identify and address the stress they are experiencing, to overcome the stigma of asking for help, and find the assistance they need. Other institutions are developing and offering expanded peer support systems for healthcare professionals experiencing the financial strain of a shuttered practice or those on the front lines. Programs on the ground are key to letting clinicians know their work is valued, their stress is real, and that the institution or company supports them.

Taking proactive steps to address well-being conditions may enhance patient safety and risk management programs by creating better stress coping mechanisms, increased staff satisfaction, and a stronger safety culture.

Dr. Laurie Drill-Mellum, Constellation’s chief medical officer, noted in a recent MPL Association webinar, “Supporting Clinicians During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” that burnout is an epidemic that requires action. “It’s critical for companies to develop awareness and empathy for the myriad concerns our clinicians are juggling and to develop and deploy concrete tactics to support them,” Drill-Mellum said.

Clinician well-being is a complex issue involving multiple responsible parties, including employers, professional associations, insurers, quality-improvement organizations, and state and federal government. MPL companies are recognizing that there has never been a more important time to invest in the clinician workforce. In the rush to respond to COVID-19, the industry must continue to prioritize the well-being of doctors, nurses, dentists, and all clinicians so that those who care for the nation’s patients are not forgotten.



Susan Beach is Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the MPL Association.