Is loneliness the next big pandemic facing America? Yes, says Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General. In an unrhetorical but detailed address, Dr. Murthy declared loneliness and isolation as one of the most significant risks to America’s social, physical, and mental health.
The 82-page advisory released by Dr. Murthy’s office titled, ‘Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation 2023 – The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community’, confirms that one-in-two adults in America are reported to be experiencing loneliness; and this study is based on data from before the pandemic.
Loneliness is putting Americans at risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. Dr. Murthy has called for the urgent need to prioritize social connection building. Dr.Murthy suggests that we must tackle loneliness as a national health problem, like other healthcare issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance addictions.
As per the healthcare advisory, the feelings of social isolation (which are more prevalent in the younger generations) are adding billions of dollars to healthcare costs. Lack of social connection increases the risk of early death substantially. In workplaces, the study reports that employees who feel they ‘belong’ are more likely to be promoted and take fewer days off. However, an estimated 40% of employed people feel excluded, resulting in an estimated loss of $2.5 million in loss of productivity per 10000 workers.
As a medical practice owner, you cannot invade patients’ private lives. But you can ensure that your staff is trained to observe and identify the signs of depression and loneliness in the people they interact with at the medical office. At the very least, your team can direct such patients to the available resources and support groups for coping with mental health issues.
Additionally, it is a known fact that healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. In our blog ‘Top Causes and Tips to Reduce Physician Burnout,’ we covered some symptoms that can help identify if a colleague or healthcare worker is stressed or borderline depressed. We urge you to read this article if you own a medical practice or work in healthcare.
Getting your practice involved in local community charities or events is an excellent way for your staff to experience a social connection with their environment. Additionally, defining and maintaining adequate staffing levels will help mitigate some of the stress of working in healthcare. If you cannot hire more staff, then analyze how to minimize the non-core tasks your medical team handles. For instance, many PracticeForces clients have improved patient care and reduced medical staff stress by outsourcing administrative tasks such as medical coding and billing. Outsourcing tasks will allow practice staff more time to focus on patients, feel less stressed during the workday, and create opportunities to build better connections in the workplace.
Watch Dr. Murthy’s video here.