The Invisible COVID-19 Crisis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Risk Among Frontline Physicians Treating COVID-19 Patients

10/25/2021
by   Sayanti Mukherjee, et al.
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This study evaluated post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among frontline US physicians (treating COVID-19 patients) in comparison with second-line physicians (not treating COVID-19 patients), and identified the significance and patterns of factors associated with higher PTSD risk. A cross-sectional, web-based survey was deployed during August and September, 2020, to practicing physicians in the 18 states with the largest COVID-19 cases. Among 1,478 responding physicians, 1,017 completed the PTSD Checklist (PCL-5). First, the PCL-5 was used to compare symptom endorsement between the two physician groups. A greater percentage of frontline than second-line physicians had clinically significant endorsement of PCL-5 symptoms and higher PCL-5 scores. Second, logistic regression and seven nonlinear machine learning (ML) algorithms were leveraged to identify potential predictors of PTSD risk by analyzing variable importance and partial dependence plots. Predictors of PTSD risk included cognitive/psychological measures, occupational characteristics, work experiences, social support, demographics, and workplace characteristics. Importantly, the final ML model random forest, identified patterns of both damaging and protective predictors of PTSD risk among frontline physicians. Key damaging factors included depression, burnout, negative coping, fears of contracting/transmitting COVID-19, perceived stigma, and insufficient resources to treat COVID-19 patients. Protective factors included resilience and support from employers/friends/family/significant others. This study underscores the value of ML algorithms to uncover nonlinear relationships among protective/damaging risk factors for PTSD in frontline physicians, which may better inform interventions to prepare healthcare systems for future epidemics/pandemics.

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