Updated: Jul 2, 2020
While the treatment of COVID patients is being conducted on war-footing across the globe, and a majority of cases successfully recover, it is also important to consider the mental and emotional well-being of the patients while they are undergoing the treatment. The conditions surrounding COVID treatment at hospitals are atypical as family visitations or any social contact is not possible. Also, due to limits of our knowledge about the virus, there is not certainty about the morbidities related to it, treatment protocol to be followed and duration of treatment. These atypical conditions drastically change the typical patient experience as well, which call for a re-evaluation of strategies to improve overall patient experience and well-being
It is crucial to understand the negative emotions and feelings that patients experience while undergoing treatment for COVID.
Fear and panic: Due to the ubiquitous communication about the risks of COVID and information explosion regarding the number of COVID cases and casualties, the perceptions around COVID are mostly related to its severity and fatality. As the negatives outcome are more salient, the fact that most COVID cases recover without serious complications is completely lost on most people. So when a person discovers that they have contacted COVID infection, the first reaction is often panic and fear of the worst outcome.
Guilt: A salient emotion which people experience when diagnosed with COVID could be a form of guilt. It is so because the onus of prevention has been passed on to the individuals and getting diagnosed could indicate some sort of slack on their part. Along with it, there is the fear that their lack of attention, could endanger their loved ones.
Loneliness: Once the guilt has set in, the second biggest emotional barrier that needs to be dealt with is the isolation that people face during the treatment period. In an alien environment, the inability to see family and friends creates extreme loneliness. This could have a debilitating effect on people and also impact the trust that they have on the system.
Anxiety: COVID is a disease with no clear treatment plan and also has not clearly spelled out morbidities it could lead to. The patient while undergoing treatment is operating with the awareness that even the authorities looking at her health have incomplete awareness about her situation. The uncertainty coupled with the potential is an extreme stressor for the patient, and often people may resign to expecting the worst outcome. Anxiety could also be triggered in cases where the patient is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic and expects more medical attention than the treatment protocol suggested.
Impatience: There is no stated timeline of treatment and the facilities could many times be ill equipped. Patients who are asymptomatic could become impatient while following through with the treatment plan. Recovered patients, even after getting treated, have to again quarantine for a longer period.
Boredom: Being cut off from any social interactions, activities or stimulation for an extended period of time may result in boredom, which could compound other negative feelings such as loneliness and impatience.
What is likely to work
Communicate to the patient early in the treatment process regarding what to expect in terms of symptoms and treatment. Provide assurance about efficacy of treatment in large majority of cases.
Share stories of people who have been treated and instilling confidence in the treatment process.
Provide mental health support to COVID patients through trained professionals.
Use virtual communication to connect patients with their families.
Familiarize patients with care providers and other workers they interact with. For example, care providers can put a picture of themselves with a smile and even a note or two about who they are as a person on the front of their gown.
Continuously communicate with patients on their care plan. Encourage patients to ask questions to reduce worry and alleviate anxiety.
Provide options for entertainment such as television, or personal devices.
Give patients opportunity to express themselves. Even those on ventilators can be given a pen and paper, or a visual board where they can point to emoticons and letters to communicate.
Partner with patients' families to customize communication and experience for patients. E.g., 'Get to Know Me' poster, which could be filled out electronically by families and hung in patient rooms.