Ms. Isabel Nieto Alvarez, Sr. Key Expert, Improving Patient Experience, Siemens Healthineers
Among other things, Ms. Isabel speaks about transparency in sharing experiences, which can allow everyone to feel more supported and understand that stress is a common, shared experience. She shares that this allows for more proactive dealing with anxiety and stress
She is an expert of the Siemens Healthineers Global Innovation Network on mental and physical stressors in the experience of care. Ms. Isabel leads cross-functional teams in innovative projects on patient experience. She holds a Master in Science on Mind and Body Medicine from Saybrook University in California, and Certifications on Leadership in Healthcare without Harm and Design Thinking
The video is a detailed account of a conversation with her. Below is an excerpt…
What are the plausible solutions that we can adopt to ensure the wellbeing of healthcare teams that work for us?
When we develop programs for wellbeing, it’s important to understand the centrality of creating awareness. Self-awareness and recognition of own trauma and anxiety has been a challenge for healthcare professionals. This is due to the stigma around mental stress in healthcare workers, as they are expected to be emotionally aloof or invincible.
The institutional approach that needs to be embedded comes from the involvement of corporation leadership and management in committing to the wellbeing of the team, by creating programs that are sustainable in the long term as well. The physical environment of healthcare providers plays a key role in ensuring that they feel safe. Creating special spaces for care providers tackling non-communicable diseases and their patients, ensures that they do not feel overly anxious about their wellbeing due to COVID-19. We also need to take responsibility for dealing with stress and anxiety once we can acknowledge its presence. Other support mechanisms include:
Short term and long-term mental health support: There needs to be an acute response to the emotional distress that HCWs are experiencing. We can take inspiration from organizations like the Red Cross that create ‘De-Stressing Corners’, where professionals working in a high stress environment can find a comfortable space to relax for some time. During the pandemic, institutions like the Cleveland Clinic set up a 24×7 support center to aid HCWs.
More insights and specific examples from across the world can be found at: https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/insights/news
Embedding mind and body programs: This encompasses a set of practices that helps the brain move out of a stressful cycle. This is commonly done via meditation and slow breathing through the belly. Such focus on the body’s wellbeing allows one to be aware of the discomfort they experience and then take steps towards selfcare and recuperation. These practices can be embedded into one comprehensive program that can be offered at an institutional level.
Bringing nature closer to the healthcare facilities: Studies show that this helps reduce stress level and lowers cortisol levels. Institutions that have integrated spaces like interior gardens into their healthcare architecture, have seen positive results.
What can be the role of technology in ensuring healthcare workers’ wellbeing?
Innovations like clean surface design that do not encourage bacterial growth and minimally invasive treatments that do not require patients to stay in healthcare facilities for extended periods of time, are technological boons. At Siemens, we try to look at Artificial Intelligence and a range of possible technological solutions that could be used for the benefit and safety of HCWs. Research into efficiency and workflow has been invaluable to find areas where workloads can and should be reduced, to prevent burnouts.
In an environment marked by complexity and uncertainty, how can healthcare workers have a compass to stay on track?
Involvement of management personnel is necessary to ensure the holistic protection of the entire healthcare ecosystem. When implementing mind and body programs, management can benefit heavily from participating as well. A mind and body session emphasizes on setting your own compass and working at your own pace. It offers flexibility for participants to pick mechanisms like drawing, journaling, dancing etc. as per their preferences. If you’re in a managerial role and interact with other stressed healthcare workers, transparency in sharing experiences allows everyone to feel more supported and understand that stress is a common, shared experience. This allows for more proactive dealing with anxiety and stress.
How can healthcare institutions deal with witnessing death and fatigue as their staff’s major stress triggers?
When the brain gets overwhelmed by emotions, it’s important to shift focus onto facts of the situation. On an institutional level, a factual and numeric approach to safety is one solution. Success of the HCWs needs to be highlighted in a clear manner, so that they can understand their important contribution to saving lives.
On a physiological level, low Vitamin D, exhaustion and sleep deprivation, poor nutrition also leads to feeling extremely emotional or overwhelmed.
What are the global good practices that we can employ to deal with the issue of targeted violence against medical personnel?
It is the responsibility of patients to be aware of the situation beyond their own interests. Compassion towards each other is the only way we can have good relationships between providers and customers. From the managerial perspective, it is important to listen in and talk to frontline workers, to identify where the violence is coming from. Secondly, partnering is essential. Partnerships with print and social media, patient advisory groups to elucidate the impact or prevalence of violence against HCWs, can stir important conversations and raise awareness. The system of healthcare is mutual: if medical professionals are cared for and treated with dignity, they can treat the masses at large. Positive press and awareness programs are encouraging for everyone.
NATHEALTH’s study showed that 57% of patients with non-Covid ailments had to postpone their regular treatments. How can quality care and consistent support be provided safely to patients with chronic ailments?
To highlight one example, Siemens has a publication on Resilience Building in Radiology and it has been noted that breast cancer screening numbers have dropped. Delayed diagnosis and treatment of chronic illnesses like cancers can be life threatening.
Upskilling of human resources and flexible planning for temporary measures are two important elements. A global practice in some countries is that of ‘Support work teams’ that assist healthcare institutions in performing some tasks, when such help is required by overburdened institutions. Remote scanning, robotics driven community outreach and telemedicine are also avenues that are being explored by many institutions and countries.
Technology needs to be combined with upskilling to yield best results. Fast, thorough, and safe remote technological care is something that institutions, governments and healthcare leaders need to think about investing in.
Is there any advice you would like to give to NATHEALTH and other organizations, while we try to shape the agenda of the wellbeing of HCWs?
We, at Siemens, had explored and employed the mind and body program over 8 sessions. It incorporates dealing with emotions by finding suitable practices for stress relief like Yoga and Qigong. This comes from a US perspective and organizations in India can take inspiration from the rich diversity of the country, to conceptualize such programs in a manner that is comprehensive and addresses the needs of the healthcare workers. Management commitment towards prioritization of workers’ wellbeing needs to be promoted via organizations and federations like NATHEALTH.