Most critical care physicians treating COVID-19 patients were highly stressed last year, study finds

More than half of critical care physicians on the COVID-19 front lines experienced serious emotional distress last year, according to a study published March 17 in Critical Care Medicine.

Researchers surveyed 1,356 critical care physicians treating COVID-19 patients nationwide from Oct. 23 to Nov. 16, 2020. The physicians had also participated in an earlier national survey conducted between April 23 and May 3, 2020. 

About 67.6 percent of physicians reported moderate or high levels of emotional distress in spring 2020. About 50.7 percent reported the same in the fall. Overall, female physicians reported higher stress levels than their male peers. 

Nearly 47 percent of physicians reported staffing shortages in the fall, compared to 48.3 percent in the spring. The number of physicians reporting personal protective equipment shortages also declined by half, but was still substantial in the fall, study authors said.

"Stress, staffing [shortages], and to a lesser degree, personal protective equipment shortages faced by U.S. critical care physicians remain high," they concluded. "Considering the persistence of these findings, rising levels of infection nationally raise concerns about the capacity of the U.S. critical care system to meet ongoing and future demands."

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