Health Care Providers Struggle with Burnout, ‘Emotionally Drained’ Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

New California Health Care Foundation Survey

66% of health providers say they feel “emotionally drained”; 59% report being “burned out”

Nine out of 10 providers see an increase in patients experiencing anxiety, depression

78% of providers at least “somewhat” confident their hospital is prepared for another COVID-19 surge — but a majority say access to PPE remains an issue more than eight months into the pandemic

California health care providers are experiencing significant emotional and mental impacts from caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, with between half and two-thirds of doctors, nurses, and other health care providers saying they feel emotionally drained, frustrated, overworked, and burned out — and are struggling to balance work and family, according to a survey conducted by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research on behalf of the California Health Care Foundation.

The survey also found 91% of providers are seeing an increase in patients experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, stress-related disorders, and other mental health impacts. Two out of three providers (66%) say they have seen an increased use of alcohol or other drugs among their patients, including over one in four (27%) who are seeing a “significant” increase. Some 86% of providers are concerned that their patients are forgoing or delaying health services necessary for their long-term health and well-being because of COVID-19.

The survey was administered from September 19, 2020, through September 28, 2020, to 1,202 health care workers in California who have provided direct patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic — including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and behavioral health specialists.

Seven in 10 providers (70%) surveyed said they have seen or treated patients with COVID-19. Notable numbers of providers, eight months into the pandemic, do not believe their concerns and mental health needs are being addressed. Three out of four (76%) agree that “not enough is being done to address the problems facing health care workers right now.” While 51% agree with the statement “my employer is providing sufficient emotional support to employees like me at this time,” 44% disagree.

“Health care providers are obviously feeling the strain of working under the extremely challenging conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Kristof Stremikis, director of Market Analysis and Insight at the California Health Care Foundation. “It is clear that providers and patients alike are struggling to maintain their mental health and a sustainable work-life balance. And while there are some positive signs — including a widespread embrace of telehealth — there’s no doubt that many Californians are putting off the care they need.”

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Telehealth — a positive sign: The survey found the number of health care providers using telehealth has grown dramatically during the pandemic — with 30% of providers saying they used telehealth for patient visits before COVID-19 and 79% saying they were using telehealth by September. More than 8 in 10 providers (84%) using telehealth consider it “very” or “somewhat” effective for providing care to their patients, and 89% would continue to rely on telehealth if payments for telehealth and in-person visits remain comparable.
  • Preparations for a COVID surge — still a concern: Many providers remain concerned about their ability to do their jobs safely — and continue to serve their patients — in the event of a surge. Over three out of four (78%) of those who work at or send patients to a hospital are at least “somewhat” confident that their hospital is prepared for another COVID-19 surge, but only 36% are “very” confident. Nearly two out of three providers (63%), however, are waiting two days or more for COVID-19 test results. Meanwhile, half of providers are still reusing personal protective equipment (PPE) eight months into the pandemic.
  • Long-term financial impacts — a significant challenge: Patient volume is down for nearly half of providers — with 82% of pediatricians and 84% of emergency departments reporting a drop in patients. As a result, more than one in three (35%) say their office, clinic, hospital, or medical facility is currently experiencing financial instability.

The full report, COVID-19 Tracking Poll: Views from California Health Care Providers on the Front Lines, shows data broken down by provider type, by safety-net or non-safety-net providers, and by patients of color. Also available are the “topline” (key results and a complete question list) and all of the charts found in the report.

Contact Information:
Lisa Aliferis
Senior Communications Officer

About the California Health Care Foundation

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.