Unique approach from western Sydney researchers uncovers new COVID-19 truths to help the future of healthcare

Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) Epidemiology and Health Analytics team in collaboration with Dr Nicky Gilroy, Dr Thomas Solano and Professor Ramon Shaban have drawn on the lived experiences of health care workers to build a valuable resource amid the persistent COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers took the forward-thinking approach of conducting in-depth interviews with frontline workers to inform ongoing efforts, as well as to identify components essential to a crisis preparedness plan and the issues pertinent to supporting relevant and immediate change.

Dr Helen Achat is the Director of Epidemiology and Health Analytics in the Research and Education Network in WSLHD, which provides a district-wide service that ensures accessibility to up-to-date epidemiological information.

“This most recent paper discusses findings about lessons learnt during the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Helen.

It is one of a series of COVID-19 investigations in which we examined how our clinicians and senior administrators addressed the early demands of the pandemic – their perspectives on what worked well, as well as areas warranting further attention.”

Dr Helen Achat

Four main needs were identified in the study:

  1. Minimise the spread of disease at all times
  2. Maintain a sense of collegiality and informed decision-making
  3. Plan for future crises
  4. Promote corporate and clinical agility

In addition to this latest paper, the pandemic-related research also focused on the physical and mental impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers and the use of telehealth for antenatal care in a pandemic.

Helen hopes the research helps to address the demands of COVID-19 and improve preparedness for future crises.

“We hope that initiatives and current planning consider findings from our investigation when developing organisational systems and work practices, and that preventive measures are trialled to potentially minimise healthcare workers’ risk to their well-being, psychological distress and loneliness.”

This study is unique for the fact it’s the only one of its kind (to the team’s knowledge) to explore the lived experiences of senior administrators and clinicians who are experts at the frontline of infection control and intensive care from a designated COVID-19 facility.

Dr Helen Achat

Other findings indicate:

  • Unsurprisingly, current mental health is a strong predictor of future mental health, suggesting we can take steps be aware of those most at risk who would benefit from flexible work practices.
  • The strong influential role of social support and networks. Our findings attest to their positive effects particularly for younger individuals with a key focus on social connections in our personal lives and camaraderie in the work setting, especially during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We have and should continue to incorporate telehealth while staying mindful of the fact that telehealth has not compensated for the reduction in face-to-face visits.

Helen said “the findings will support efforts toward maintaining an effective workforce while keeping the wellbeing of healthcare workers a central focus.

“The findings are not only relevant to the current pandemic but also to other occasions when health responds to a crisis.”

Read the publication ‘Managing COVID-19 in an Australian designated isolation facility: Implications for current and future healthcare crises based on in-depth interviews’ here on PLOS ONE doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0278479