As a healthcare professional, you know the abrupt and traumatic physical impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on your patient population. The life-changing emotional ramifications for those patients are much harder to assess for your organization but are no less important to address. A new study can help your doctors determine which stressors are causing your patients the most difficulty so action can be taken to help them get relief quickly and effectively.

A research team from the University of Connecticut recently published “Americans’ COVID-19 Stress, Coping, and Adherence to CDC Guidelines.” The team surveyed over 1,000 U.S. adults in April. They found that the following issues created by the virus caused the most distress to the individuals participating:

  • Reading or hearing about the severity and contagiousness of COVID-19. Almost 97% of people stated this was a huge issue for them.
  • Being unsure about how long social distancing will have to continue.
  • Dealing with unwanted changes to interactions people have day-to-day.
  • Managing concerns about personal care and safety on a constant basis.
  • Financial worries due to job loss or lack of money.
  • The prognosis of a loved one diagnosed with COVID-19.

The researchers also found that the best way doctors can discourage patients who report dealing with these stressors from indulging in negative distraction strategies like unhealthy eating or substance abuse is to provide specific telemedicine services for emotional support.

Telemedicine evaluations and mental health treatment options should certainly be a priority for all organizations right now. What can make these services even more beneficial to your patients? Considering ways that your doctors can incorporate their understanding of the study's findings into their discussions with, and subsequent treatment of, all patients experiencing COVID-19 stress.

Communicate the following key points to your physicians to help them do this the right way.

Ask the right questions. Your doctors should clearly cover each of the areas the study authors found are concerning patients. Then, follow up by asking about any other stressors tied to the pandemic a patient may be dealing with and ask the patient to describe in as much detail as they can how pandemic stress is affecting them. Cover both emotional and physical symptoms.

Know the right way to address these concerns in conversation. Your physicians should listen supportively and express to patients who are struggling that their feelings are valid and important. Reminding patients that the world is living through an unprecedented health crisis that happened very suddenly can be very helpful in terms of giving them the proper big picture perspective, too.

Address physical symptoms that are related to COVID-19 stress through performing a complete examination, and ordering further testing and treatment as warranted.

Provide the appropriate support resources via collaboration with your organization's mental health team if that's indicated for an individual patient.

Offer the right follow-up and ongoing treatment strategies. Your doctors should remain a supportive and trustworthy presence as patients continue to work through COVID-19 stress, checking in frequently to see how they're feeling and doing everything they can to facilitate progress so patients feel better as quickly as possible.

Awareness, compassion and proper action — these three elements should be the core of your strategy when dealing with your patients in the context of pandemic stress. Helping every one of your patients move forward in every way you can is a crucial contribution you can make to protect their overall health — for now and for the future.