I recently read an article talking about how healthcare facilities should expect an onslaught of patients needing reassurance that they don’t have the Ebola virus. The author reasoned that with flu season reaching its peak, symptoms will likely be mistaken for Ebola. As such, this could cause an increase in visits to emergency rooms and hospitals, even with no other reason to suspect the deadly virus.
While I was reading the article, I reflected on how Ebola has been handled both in the news and on my own recent experience.
Panic – A New “Disease”
It seems like you can hardly turn on the TV or read the news without hearing about Ebola. I confess, I’ve been guilty of buying into the panic (in my defense, I’m a first-time mother of an infant, so every little sneeze makes me jump out of my skin). When my little angel had fever and vomiting last week, I called the pediatrician. The first thing the staff asked me was if she’d been to West Africa or had related exposure. What I should have thought was, “This baby only travels within a ten mile radius from our home – there’s nothing to worry about!” But instead, I freaked out a little bit, thinking, “Oh no! I just knew that the new teacher at her daycare had a funny accent! What if…” and you can guess the rest. As it turns out, she had a sinus infection… and the funny accent was Australian!
It is clear, however, that I am not the only person who has responded this way. The media hype has certainly created a mood of panic. I can only imagine the battle that healthcare facilities are fighting every day. In addition to the fear and urgency created in the news, flu season is now in full swing, and, unfortunately, influenza and Ebola have some similar symptoms. There could likely be some hectic months ahead. The panic seems to have taken on a life of its own, an epidemic almost equal to the virus itself!
So, how do you treat panic? The article I read suggested that training and information are the cures. I completely agree. The better prepared you feel to handle the problem, the smaller and more manageable the problem seems. It’s like my husband always says, “Control what you can control.”
You can’t control the message that the public is getting in the news, and you can’t control the fact that the panic has coincided with flu season. However, you can control the message that you project and the tone you set.
To create a calm, rational environment at your facility, you need to reassure and empower your staff and clinicians. Beyond educating them to understand symptoms, you should address their fears and build their confidence.
Teach them best practices for working in an Ebola-contaminated environment. Go through actual drills and practice sessions of working around and disposing of hazardous materials. Train, practice, and rehearse until your staff feels comfortable with the process.
They may still have concerns, but at least you can stop the momentum of panic and shift from a reactive to a proactive environment. Then, your trained and empowered staff will not only be prepared to handle the threat of Ebola, but they will be prepared to handle the more likely threat of frightened patients. In short, they’ll be equipped to soothe patients’ fears because you’ve helped them address their own.