Forget Zoom-fatigue, what about Zoom exhaustion? It has been a year since our computer screen replaced the exam room for so many of us. Much has been written about how to take care of patients via telemedicine, but what about taking care of telemedicine providers? This post will share 6 ways you can protect yourself from telemedicine burnout.
Providing telemedicine increases your risk of burnout.
Telemedicine introduces a digital barrier to the human connection that is central to clinical care. Patients rarely interact with us without some kind of emotion.
Healthcare providers, we need to remember, benefit from the in-person consultations as much as patients.
The key to avoiding burnout is to find ways to maintain that human connection even through a screen.
5 Ways to Avoid Telemedicine Burnout
Listen with empathy.
Consciously try to practice a ritual of connection. Look for ways to see your patient as a human being. Be human yourself. Resist technology turning you into an unfeeling robot. Build trust by reassuring your patient you are there for them, despite having to meet through a screen. Take advantage of the new window into your patients’ living situation that the screen provides. Ask your patient about visible personal items such as pets, photos, or artwork. This can help both of you find that human connection more easily, even though you can’t be in the same room together.
Connect with colleagues.
Find ways to keep in touch with your professional community. Consciously cultivate your relationships with your colleagues and co-workers. Schedule a weekly-office call or practitioner check-in video conference.
I like to share in the care. I value working together as a team and being able to give and receive positive feedback. Especially in mental health, it is harder when you cannot process with your colleagues. It can feel isolating. –Elizabeth F, Psychologist, Paris, France
Take a moment of rest between patients.
Don’t underestimate how tiring telemedicine can be. If you do, you are putting yourself at risk for compassion fatigue. Video calls are more mentally tiring because you have to stay focused more intently on what the patient is saying in order to absorb information. It is also more difficult to understand and read non-verbal cues such as body language or expressions via video. Our brains are exhausted by puzzling through each client’s presentation on the screen. Not to mention having to look at the smaller picture of ourselves simultaneously- examining every wrinkle, change in position, or lighting.
Doing more than four video appointments in a row is exhausting, in fact, I have found it more exhausting than bouncing from room to room … maybe because patients are all ready, prepped, undressed, and interviewed by support staff when I see them in person. -Jen D., Adult Nurse Practitioner, Portland, ME
With virtual medicine, you don’t have the break that moving between patient rooms provides. Heather W., a social worker in Barcelona groups patients in blocks, back to back, but makes the most of even a few minutes in between patients. She says that “it is intense, but I find with a few minutes between appointments, I get up and do some stretches, or simply use the time to take a quick break.” Make sure to get up from your work area to get a drink of water or stick your head out the front door for some fresh air. This is 5-minute yoga video will teach you some stretches for releasing your neck and shoulders. Resist the temptation to check your phone during this time. Make your breaks between clients screen-free to truly give your brain and eyes a rest.
Resist the temptation to multitask.
We have all heard that we actually get less done when we try to do more than one thing at a time, but the allure of multitasking is so tempting. Technology was explicitly designed to make it easier for us to multitask. Video calling will be even more stressful if you have additional screens open to monitor incoming emails or answer triage questions. Multitasking slows you down and increases fatigue. Toggling between screens makes it less likely that you will do a good job at any one task. You will end up feeling frustrated with yourself. You strain your brain even more when you have to play catch-up because you missed what your patient just said while you were sending that email. Even worse, is that your patient will misinterpret your distraction as a lack of empathy.
Make your home office a restorative space.
Now that you are working from home, take advantage of being able to have scented candles, aromatherapy diffusers, cozy blankets, favorite pieces of art, or plants around you. Challenge your colleagues to a workspace decorating challenge to see who can create the most spa-like home office. Use a signaling mechanism for other family members working from home to let them know when you are available. The green (ok to come in my office), yellow (interrupt me only if you really need to), red (do not disturb me unless the house is on fire) traffic light metaphor works well for younger children when posted on the door to your office. We all know how stressful it is to try to give instructions for snack options while maintaining eye contact with our patient or client.
Go on a Zoom diet.
The allure of any new technology is powerful. At the beginning of lockdown, weren’t you tempted to turn every conference call or chat with a friend into a video call? Don’t forget to be mindful of all of the other minutes in your day spent video calling. These add up and contribute to your overall Zoom fatigue. There is nothing wrong with having a non-Zoom meeting for work. Give yourself permission to fold laundry while you talk to your mom, without video. Try to limit all non-essential patient Zoom hours in any given day. Check out our previous post with other tech-mindfulness tips if you are looking for additional suggestions for how to limit time spent with technology.
“We’re building the plane as we’re trying to fly it.”
This is how Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Health, described struggling to come up with her state’s Coronavirus response. The same analogy applies to how healthcare providers are trying to adapt to telemedicine becoming the standard of care, almost overnight.
So, continuing with the airplane metaphor, providers need to place the oxygen mask over our own mouths before putting masks on our patients. Meaning, we will not be able to provide compassionate care with the necessary healing connection unless we take care of ourselves.
Pay attention to the toll that telemedicine is taking on you. Find ways to reconnect with living, loving beings who bring you joy- your family, your colleagues, your pets. Take time to rest, play, and process. Protect your own well-being. If you are exhausted, you can’t provide the high quality of care your patients need in these difficult times.