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      The experiences of health-care providers during the COVID-19 crisis in China: a qualitative study

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          Summary

          Background

          In the early stages of the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Hubei, China, the local health-care system was overwhelmed. Physicians and nurses who had no infectious disease expertise were recruited to provide care to patients with COVID-19. To our knowledge, no studies on their experiences of combating COVID-19 have been published. We aimed to describe the experiences of these health-care providers in the early stages of the outbreak.

          Methods

          We did a qualitative study using an empirical phenomenological approach. Nurses and physicians were recruited from five COVID-19-designated hospitals in Hubei province using purposive and snowball sampling. They participated in semi-structured, in-depth interviews by telephone from Feb 10 to Feb 15, 2020. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using Haase's adaptation of Colaizzi's phenomenological method.

          Findings

          We recruited nine nurses and four physicians. Three theme categories emerged from data analysis. The first was “being fully responsible for patients' wellbeing—‘this is my duty’”. Health-care providers volunteered and tried their best to provide care for patients. Nurses had a crucial role in providing intensive care and assisting with activities of daily living. The second category was “challenges of working on COVID-19 wards”. Health-care providers were challenged by working in a totally new context, exhaustion due to heavy workloads and protective gear, the fear of becoming infected and infecting others, feeling powerless to handle patients' conditions, and managing relationships in this stressful situation. The third category was “resilience amid challenges”. Health-care providers identified many sources of social support and used self-management strategies to cope with the situation. They also achieved transcendence from this unique experience.

          Interpretation

          The intensive work drained health-care providers physically and emotionally. Health-care providers showed their resilience and the spirit of professional dedication to overcome difficulties. Comprehensive support should be provided to safeguard the wellbeing of health-care providers. Regular and intensive training for all health-care providers is necessary to promote preparedness and efficacy in crisis management.

          Funding

          National Key R&D Program of China, Project of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Ministry of Education in China.

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          Most cited references13

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          Mental health care for medical staff in China during the COVID-19 outbreak

          In December, 2019, an outbreak of a novel coronavirus pneumonia occurred in Wuhan (Hubei, China), and subsequently attracted worldwide attention. 1 By Feb 9, 2020, there were 37 294 confirmed and 28 942 suspected cases of 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China. 2 Facing this large-scale infectious public health event, medical staff are under both physical and psychological pressure. 3 To better fight the COVID-19 outbreak, as the largest top-class tertiary hospital in Hunan Province, the Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University undertakes a considerable part of the investigation of suspected patients. The hospital has set up a 24-h fever clinic, two mild suspected infection patient screening wards, and one severe suspected infection patient screening ward. In addition to the original medical staff at the infectious disease department, volunteer medical staff have been recruited from multiple other departments. The Second Xiangya Hospital—workplace of the chairman of the Psychological Rescue Branch of the Chinese Medical Rescue Association—and the Institute of Mental Health, the Medical Psychology Research Center of the Second Xiangya Hospital, and the Chinese Medical and Psychological Disease Clinical Medicine Research Center responded rapidly to the psychological pressures on staff. A detailed psychological intervention plan was developed, which mainly covered the following three areas: building a psychological intervention medical team, which provided online courses to guide medical staff to deal with common psychological problems; a psychological assistance hotline team, which provided guidance and supervision to solve psychological problems; and psychological interventions, which provided various group activities to release stress. However, the implementation of psychological intervention services encountered obstacles, as medical staff were reluctant to participate in the group or individual psychology interventions provided to them. Moreover, individual nurses showed excitability, irritability, unwillingness to rest, and signs of psychological distress, but refused any psychological help and stated that they did not have any problems. In a 30-min interview survey with 13 medical staff at The Second Xiangya Hospital, several reasons were discovered for this refusal of help. First, getting infected was not an immediate worry to staff—they did not worry about this once they began work. Second, they did not want their families to worry about them and were afraid of bringing the virus to their home. Third, staff did not know how to deal with patients when they were unwilling to be quarantined at the hospital or did not cooperate with medical measures because of panic or a lack of knowledge about the disease. Additionally, staff worried about the shortage of protective equipment and feelings of incapability when faced with critically ill patients. Many staff mentioned that they did not need a psychologist, but needed more rest without interruption and enough protective supplies. Finally, they suggested training on psychological skills to deal with patients' anxiety, panic, and other emotional problems and, if possible, for mental health staff to be on hand to directly help these patients. Accordingly, the measures of psychological intervention were adjusted. First, the hospital provided a place for rest where staff could temporarily isolate themselves from their family. The hospital also guaranteed food and daily living supplies, and helped staff to video record their routines in the hospital to share with their families and alleviate family members' concerns. Second, in addition to disease knowledge and protective measures, pre-job training was arranged to address identification of and responses to psychological problems in patients with COVID-19, and hospital security staff were available to be sent to help deal with uncooperative patients. Third, the hospital developed detailed rules on the use and management of protective equipment to reduce worry. Fourth, leisure activities and training on how to relax were properly arranged to help staff reduce stress. Finally, psychological counsellors regularly visited the rest area to listen to difficulties or stories encountered by staff at work, and provide support accordingly. More than 100 frontline medical staff can rest in the provided rest place, and most of them report feeling at home in this accomodation. Maintaining staff mental health is essential to better control infectious diseases, although the best approach to this during the epidemic season remains unclear.4, 5 The learning from these psychological interventions is expected to help the Chinese government and other parts of the world to better respond to future unexpected infectious disease outbreaks.
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            Online mental health services in China during the COVID-19 outbreak

            At the start of 2020, the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19), originating from Wuhan in Hubei province, started to spread throughout China. As a result of the rapidly increasing numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, both medical staff and the public have been experiencing psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, and stress.1, 2 Since January, 2020, the National Health Commission of China have published several guideline documents, starting with the notification of principles for emergency psychological crisis intervention for the COVID-19 epidemic on January 26, then the notice on establishing psychological assistance hotlines for the epidemic on February 2, and most recently, guidelines for psychological assistance hotlines during the COVID-19 epidemic on February 7. 3 During the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2003, internet services and smartphones were not widely available. Therefore, few online mental health services were provided for those in need. 4 The popularisation of internet services and smartphones, and the emergence of fifth generation (5G) mobile networks, have enabled mental health professionals and health authorities to provide online mental health services during the COVID-19 outbreak. Fast transmission of the virus between people hinders traditional face-to-face psychological interventions. By contrast, provision of online mental health services is safe. To date, several types of online mental health services have been implemented widely for those in need during the outbreak in China. Firstly, as of Feb 8, 2020, 72 online mental health surveys associated with the COVID-19 outbreak could be searched for via the WeChat-based survey programme Questionnaire Star, which target different populations, including medical staff (23 of the surveys), patients with COVID-19 (one survey), students (18 surveys), the general population (nine surveys), and mixed populations (21 surveys); in Hubei province (five surveys), other provinces (15 surveys), all provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions (36 surveys), and unspecified areas of China (16 surveys). One such multicentre survey involving 1563 medical staff, with our centre at Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University (Guangzhou, China) as one of the study sites, found the prevalence of depression (defined as a total score of ≥5 in the Patient Health Questionnaire-9) to be 50·7%, of anxiety (defined as a total score of ≥5 in the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7) to be 44·7%, of insomnia to be 36·1% (defined as a total score of ≥8 in the Insomnia Severity Index), and of stress-related symptoms (defined as a total score of ≥9 in the Impact of Events Scale-Revised) to be 73·4%. These findings are important in enabling health authorities to allocate health resources and develop appropriate treatments for medical staff who have mental health problems. Secondly, online mental health education with communication programmes, such as WeChat, Weibo, and TikTok, has been widely used during the outbreak for medical staff and the public. In addition, several books on COVID-19 prevention, control, and mental health education have been swiftly published and free electronic copies have been provided for the public. As of February 8, 29 books associated with COVID-19 have been published, 11 (37·9%) of which are on mental health, including the “Guidelines for public psychological self-help and counselling of 2019-nCoV pneumonia”, published by the Chinese Association for Mental Health. Finally, online psychological counselling services (eg, WeChat-based resources) have been widely established by mental health professionals in medical institutions, universities, and academic societies throughout all 31 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions in mainland China, which provide free 24-h services on all days of the week. Online psychological self-help intervention systems, including online cognitive behavioural therapy for depression, anxiety, and insomnia (eg, on WeChat), have also been developed. In addition, several artificial intelligence (AI) programmes have been put in use as interventions for psychological crises during the epidemic. For example, individuals at risk of suicide can be recognised by the AI programme Tree Holes Rescue, 5 by monitoring and analysing messages posted on Weibo, and alerting designated volunteers to act accordingly. In general, online mental health services being used for the COVID-19 epidemic are facilitating the development of Chinese public emergency interventions, and eventually could improve the quality and effectiveness of emergency interventions.
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              Psychological interventions for people affected by the COVID-19 epidemic

              The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic has now spread across China for over a month. The National Health Commission has issued guidelines for emergency psychological crisis intervention for people affected by COVID-19. 1 Medical institutions and universities across China have opened online platforms to provide psychological counselling services for patients, their family members, and other people affected by the epidemic. However, Xiang and colleagues, 2 claim that the mental health needs of patients with confirmed COVID-19, patients with suspected infection, quarantined family members, and medical personnel have been poorly handled. The organisation and management models for psychological interventions in China must be improved. Several countries in the west (eg, the UK and USA) have established procedures for psychological crisis interventions to deal with public health emergencies. 3 Theoretical and practical research on psychological crisis interventions in China commenced relatively recently. In 2004, the Chinese Government issued guidelines on strengthening mental health initiatives, 4 and psychological crisis interventions have dealt with public health emergencies—eg, after the type A influenza outbreak and the Wenchuan earthquake—with good results.5, 6 During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, several psychological counselling telephone helplines were opened for the public, and quickly became important mechanisms in addressing psychological issues. However, the organisation and management of psychological intervention activities have several problems. First, little attention is paid to the practical implementation of interventions. Overall planning is not adequate. When an outbreak occurs, no authoritative organisation exists to deploy and plan psychological intervention activities in different regions and subordinate departments. Hence, most medical departments start psychological interventional activities independently without communicating with each other, thereby wasting mental health resources, and failing patients in terms of a lack of a timely diagnosis, and poor follow-up for treatments and evaluations. Second, the cooperation between community health services and mental-health-care institutions in some provinces and cites in China has been decoupled. After the assessment of the mental health states of individuals affected by the epidemic, patients cannot be assigned according to the severity of their condition and difficulty of treatment to the appropriate department or professionals for timely and reasonable diagnosis and treatment. And after remission of the viral infection, patients cannot be transferred quickly from a hospital to a community health service institution to receive continuous psychological treatment. Finally, owing to a shortage of professionals, the establishment of psychological intervention teams in many areas is not feasible. Teams might consist of psychological counsellors, nurses, volunteers, or teachers majoring in psychology and other related fields, with no professional and experienced psychologists and psychiatrists. One individual often has multiple responsibilities, which can reduce the effectiveness of interventions. This situation can be resolved by improving relevant policies, strengthening personnel training, optimising organisational and management policies, and constantly reviewing experiences in practice. In the National Health Commission guidelines, 1 key points were formulated for different groups, including patients with confirmed and suspected infections, medical care and related personnel, those who had close contacts with patients (eg, family members, colleagues, friends), people who refused to seek medical treatment, susceptible groups (eg, older people, children, and pregnant women), and the general public. With disease progression, clinical symptoms become severe and psychological problems in infected patients will change; therefore, psychological intervention measures should be targeted and adapted as appropriate. Studies have confirmed that individuals who have experienced public health emergencies still have varying degrees of stress disorders, even after the event is over, or they have been cured and discharged from hospital, indicating these individuals should not be ignored.7, 8 Therefore, we should consider the disease course, severity of clinical symptoms, place of treatment (eg, isolated at home, ordinary isolation ward, intensive care unit), and other factors to classify individuals who need psychological intervention and to formulate specific measures to improve the effectiveness of these interventions. Under strict infection measures, non-essential personnel such as clinical psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health social workers, are strongly discouraged from entering isolation wards for patients with COVID-19. Therefore, frontline health-care workers become the main personnel providing psychological interventions to patients in hospitals. For individuals with a suspected infection who are under quarantine or at home, community health service personnel should provide primary medical care and mental health care. However, because of complicated work procedures, heavy workloads, and a lack of standardised training in psychiatry or clinical psychology, community health service personnel do not always know how to mitigate the psychological distress of patients. A professional team comprising mental health personnel is a basic tenet in dealing with emotional distress and other mental disorders caused by epidemics and other public health emergencies. The national mental health working plan (2015–20) reported that 27 733 licensed psychiatrists (1·49 per 100 000 population), 57 591 psychiatric nurses, and more than 5 000 psychotherapists worked in China in 2015. 9 By the end of 2017, the number of licensed psychiatrists had increased to 33 400, and the number of psychotherapists, social workers, and psychological counsellors was also increasing year by year, 10 but their numbers were still too few to meet the needs of patients with mental disorders. Hence, training of mental health professionals at different levels is urgently required by the Chinese Government. Interventions should be based on a comprehensive assessment of risk factors leading to psychological issues, including poor mental health before a crisis, bereavement, injury to self or family members, life-threatening circumstances, panic, separation from family and low household income. 11 Any major epidemic outbreak will have negative effects on individuals and society. Lessons learned from terrorist events at the Pentagon and anthrax attacks in the USA showed the importance of pre-establishing community coalitions to mobilise resources efficiently and effectively and to respond successfully to the disaster-related mental health needs of affected individuals. 12 Planning of psychological interventions in China is usually done passively; few preventive measures are implemented before the occurrence of serious psychological issues caused by acute emergency events. The outbreak of COVID-19 has shown many problems with the provision of psychological intervention in China. Here we have suggested ways that the government could establish and improve the intervention system based on sound scientific advice, to effectively deal with the mental health problems caused by public health emergencies. © 2020 Pasieka 2020 Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Lancet Glob Health
                Lancet Glob Health
                The Lancet. Global Health
                The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.
                2214-109X
                29 April 2020
                29 April 2020
                Affiliations
                [a ]Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China
                [b ]Department of Nursing, School of Health Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China
                [c ]Population and Health Research Center, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China
                [d ]School of Nursing, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN, USA
                [e ]School of Nursing, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China
                [f ]Department of Psychiatry, Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China
                Author notes
                [* ]Correspondence to: Dr Bing Xiang Yang, Department of Nursing, School of Health Sciences and Population and Health Research Center, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430071, China 00009312@ 123456whu.edu.cn
                [** ]Dr Jiong Yang, Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan 430071, China yangjiongwh@ 123456126.com
                Article
                S2214-109X(20)30204-7
                10.1016/S2214-109X(20)30204-7
                7190296
                32573443
                6c62a720-5802-4c5b-a6ec-24d204bbfce7
                © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY 4.0 license

                Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

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