Are there enough health care professionals to fight against COVID-19?
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US is the largest in the world. That means healthcare providers are as strained as they may be.
Doctors and nurses are short on equipment, security protocols are soft, and they are facing inhumane shifts and unparalleled levels of stress.
The epicenter of the US crisis is in New York City, and hospitals around it are starting to face serious staffing problems and, even if there are no official stats, many doctors have tested positive.
Does that mean that when the crisis reaches its highest point, the country will see a medical personnel shortage?
There’s no yes/no answer to that question.
It may be a yes for one particular reason: doctors are more likely to get infected, and due to high exposure, their cases may be complicated. For example, in Spain, 14 % of the official coronavirus cases were medical staff, and in Italy, the percentage was almost 10 %.
And the US seems to be going that road, especially when considering that the shortage of medical gear and insufficient safety protocols. In fact, in Boston, more than 100 healthcare professionals only in its three largest hospitals have already tested positive.
But, it may be a no, if some measures are taken. For example, the US can temporarily allow any individuals that have graduated from medical school to work as a physician. That would pump more than 4,000 professionals who haven’t matched a residency program to enter the workforce. Completing the program is a requisite for licensing and getting board certification.
Such individuals can work as assistant physicians that can perform some procedures, order medications, and assist in treatments. That would help states such as Washington, New York, and Massachusetts to be able to deal with the crisis in a better way.
Thirty states had already relaxed requirements to allow doctors and nurses to practice across state lines during the crisis. Likewise, more than 25 states allowed retired medical professionals to get back to practice swiftly. All this led, for example, the state of New York to have more than 10,000 volunteers in a single day to fight the crisis virus and 62,500 in total.
Furthermore, there are also other reasons to breathe easy. The US has more average healthcare staff than both Spain and Italy, and a better average than South Korea, to name three examples.
Part of the strategy to prevent the healthcare system from being overrun is twofold: 1. Prevent healthcare workers from getting sick, increase safety measures, temporarily relaxing regulations to boost the number of physicians, allowing retirees to return to practice and professionals with out-state licenses.
Such a strategy may ease the shortage of healthcare providers while the worst part of the pandemic passes and may also help the US avoid total healthcare collapse as some parts of Italy and Spain did.