December 17, 2020

National Academies Highlights Strategies for Tracking Deaths, Burnout from COVID-19 in Healthcare

A new publication from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presents a potential national framework for tracking COVID-19-related mortality and morbidity data on healthcare workers. The “rapid health consultation” examines the challenges of tracking the number of COVID-19 deaths among this group. For example, no OSHA category counts worker deaths specifically caused by an infection acquired on the job, and requirements for recording and reporting illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 vary from state to state. The National Academies document notes that some states do not report COVID-19 deaths by profession, and others only report data on healthcare workers in certain settings—in hospitals but not nursing homes, for instance. Community spread of COVID-19 further complicates efforts to discern whether healthcare workers became infected at work or were exposed elsewhere.

The National Academies urges the implementation of a “robust national data reporting system” to collect information such as the specific professions of the deceased, relevant demographic data, and evidence of where the infection occurred. The document also suggests that data related to the availability of personal protective equipment at individuals’ workplaces and information about interventions that may affect the level of risk would also help “support the adoption of effective mitigation strategies and policies to reduce COVID-19” illnesses and deaths among healthcare workers.

The authors of the document also describe the limited data related to the pandemic’s effects on healthcare workers’ mental health and consider suicide deaths that could “reasonably be attributed to the fatigue, stress, and burnout exacerbated by COVID-19.” The National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience in August 2020 urged the implementation of a national epidemiological tracking program to measure the well-being of healthcare workers. The new consultation adds that this type of program could help track the psychological effects of COVID-19 on healthcare workers as well as the effectiveness of interventions to support workers’ well-being and safety.

“Apart from a national reporting system, epidemiological studies on risk factors for [healthcare workers] such as face-to-face contact with COVID-19 patients, availability and use of PPE, and institutional requirements for masking could also be informative for policy and practice,” the document concludes.

A free PDF of the report is available from the National Academies Press.