Eleven months into the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the country faces accelerating rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Little is known about the experiences of critical care physicians caring for the sickest coronavirus disease 2019 patients. Our goal is to understand how high stress levels and shortages faced by these physicians during Spring 2020 have evolved.
We surveyed (October 23, 2020 to November 16, 2020) U.S. critical care physicians treating coronavirus disease 2019 patients who participated in a National survey earlier in the pandemic (April 23, 2020 to May 3, 2020) regarding their stress and shortages they faced.
Coronavirus disease 2019 patients.
Physician emotional distress/physical exhaustion: low (not at all/not much), moderate, or high (a lot/extreme). Shortage indicators: insufficient ICU-trained staff and shortages in medication, equipment, or personal protective equipment requiring protocol changes.
Of 2,375 U.S. critical care attending physicians who responded to the initial survey, we received responses from 1,356 (57.1% response rate), 97% of whom (1,278) recently treated coronavirus disease 2019 patients. Two thirds of physicians (67.6% ) reported moderate or high levels of emotional distress in the Spring versus 50.7% (763) in the Fall. Reports of staffing shortages persisted with 46.5% of Fall respondents (594) reporting a staff shortage versus 48.3% (617) in the Spring. Meaningful shortages of medication and equipment reported in the Spring were largely alleviated. Although personal protective equipment shortages declined by half, they remained substantial.
Stress, staffing, and, to a lesser degree, personal protective equipment shortages faced by U.S. critical care physicians remain high. Stress levels were higher among women. Considering the persistence of these findings, rising levels of infection nationally raise concerns about the capacity of the U.S. critical care system to meet ongoing and future demands.