The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new set of challenges many doctors have not experienced in their lifetimes. As we continue to live through this extraordinary global event, it becomes increasing important that you continue to look after your own health while caring for the health and safety of others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant toll on our community and has caused uncertainty and fear around what is currently happening, and of what’s to come. This uncertainty and fear has been heightened for medical professionals who are dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on a daily basis.
As the pandemic continues, anxieties among doctors and health professionals are continually evolving.
Dr Kym Jenkins, psychiatrist and immediate past president of RANZCP, says the initial anxieties that troubled many healthcare workers were tangible worries that included safety issues, such as the lack of PPE for staff and whether hospitals were able to accommodate an influx of COVID-19 patients.
“One of the most challenging things to work out from a mental health point of view is whether the healthcare worker is suffering from a mental health illness or whether they’re experiencing an understandable response to a completely abnormal situation,” explained Dr Jenkins.
Although an increase in stress and anxiety has occurred across the healthcare profession due to COVID-19, those with a previous history of anxiety are more vulnerable at this time. Generally speaking, many of us have an increased level of baseline anxiety during COVID-19. The initial worries that were keeping us awake at night are to do with the fear that the worst is yet to come, not dissimilar to the devastating scenes observed overseas.
As we move through these initial anxieties, doctors in private practice are also under significant pressure, adequately safeguarding their practice and staff, dealing with patients every day who may or may not be infected, shifting from face-to-face consults to learning how to navigate effectively through telehealth, and deciding whether to distance themselves from their family to avoid contaminating their loved ones in case they were infected, to name a few.
The financial impact on private practice and allied health services is also becoming apparent, due to the temporary reduction of non-urgent elective surgery and social distancing measures restricting access to certain services. Those with families are having to juggle more roles, such as having to home school children and the stress that comes with blurring personal and professional lives.
The current situation and beyond
As we continue through more changes and disruption, for a brief period we witnessed the economy gradually reopened and social restrictions slowly lifted. Although, new uncertainties around Victoria’s recent increase in cases, as well as clusters in parts of Sydney and regional NSW, continue to cause uncomfortable and uncertain times.
“As time goes on we’re going to see more depression and despondency become apparent. The source of anxiety is going to be less in how people are handling things but a shift to those secondary considerations that aren’t directly related to the virus. It will be regarding the impact it’s having on their lives in areas such as relationships, career and income,” says Dr Jenkins.
This means also learning to deal with the consequences of living through a pandemic.
As the world adapts to contain and fight the virus, the medical profession will have to accept COVID-19 as a longer-term, evolving event. This may mean that social norms will not go back to how it was pre-COVID-19, the general public will conform to a heightened sense of hygiene, and we will deal with evolving sets of anxieties as they unfold.
Looking after your own mental health while you look after the community
As we remain optimistic, the medical profession will emerge stronger together after having survived a pandemic. Not only are doctors faced with the enormous task of caring for others’ health and safety, but it is essential that you continue to look after your own mental health alongside your patients’.
Mental health resources, support groups for health professionals, and COVID-related forums for doctors are available and updated on a regular basis.
Doctors’ Health Fund provides cover for services to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing, if and when you need to reach out for support.
Cover for mental health services under Extras
All our Extras covers provide benefits towards private consultations with psychologists and counsellors, when not covered by Medicare. It is important that you feel comfortable with your provider, so with no preferred providers, we will pay a benefit for services provided by your chosen psychologist and/or counsellor, as long as they are accredited with an Australian organisation in their relevant field, such as the APA or PACFA. We even cover consultations provided by phone or Skype.
Recognising the importance of looking after your mental health, we increased our benefits across all levels of cover from 1 April, so now you receive more back each year on these services.
On Total Extras, each policy member has a stand-alone total limit of $900 to claim on mental health services per year, and the sub-limit for Essential Extras has increased to $700.^ A benefit of $100 is paid per consultation.
On Starter Extras, consultations receive a benefit of $100 per visit, up to a combined annual limit of $400.^
Inpatient psychiatric services under hospital cover
Top Cover Gold and Prime Choice Gold hospital covers provide full cover for inpatient psychiatric services, where Medicare pays a benefit. Smart Starter Bronze Plus provides restricted cover for inpatient psychiatric services, meaning these services are limited to delivery as a private patient in a public hospital in a shared room. However, if you are covered by Smart Starter Bronze Plus and require immediate full cover for inpatient psychiatric services, you can elect to use a Lifetime Mental Health Waiver, removing all waiting periods when you upgrade, and you will get access to higher benefits for inpatient psychiatric services straight away*.
Don’t hesitate to contact our friendly Member Services Team on 1800 226 126 who can confidentially discuss what options are available as part of your cover with Doctors’ Health Fund.