Physician peer support during the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be more than a pat on the back. Here’s what you can do to support your colleagues.
We all know that physicians are overwhelmed. But if you aren't on the front lines, how can you offer physician peer support to your colleagues in the U.S. and abroad? Here are some suggestions for those who are working directly with COVID-19 patients, those behind the lines and even physician managers.
Fight the other battle: misinformation
Even if you aren't on the COVID-19 battlefield, you're on the front line of another battle: keeping the public informed of the facts and inoculating them against hoaxes and misinformation.
"Under these circumstances, containing misinformation about the novel coronavirus may rank second only to curbing the spread of COVID-19 itself," the American Medical Association (AMA) warns. "We recognize that fear is a natural human response to a public health threat about which so much remains unknown - and we also realize that fear can incapacitate us and inhibit an appropriate response."
It starts with your patients. The more people who understand the coronavirus and take the appropriate precautions, the less likely it is that people will end up with it, and that takes the burden off your colleagues in the hospital's emergency department and elsewhere.
Here are some patient-friendly resources to share:
- COVID-19 basics from UpToDate
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's public-facing COVID-19 site
- The Emmi video "Understanding COVID-19 and How to Stay Safe"
- Clinical Drug Information's "Preventing the Spread of an Infectious Disease"
Some of your patients may be confused by the conflicting cable news coverage. You can point them to more reliable sources. Several mainstream media outlets are offering coronavirus-specific news roundups, as are healthcare news organizations like Kaiser Health News, Modern Healthcare, Medscape, MedPage Today and FierceHealthcare.
It doesn't have to stop with your patients. If you're already on social media, you have a powerful platform. You can amplify the credible information that's already circulating and add your own resources, such as the ones above.
These efforts are vital. Your colleagues across the world are working to contain transmission of COVID-19, and you can work to contain the transmission of misinformation.
Share best practices in real time
Consider using social media to share information with your colleagues, too. Physicians are turning to specialized - usually private - social media groups to better understand COVID-19. During what Bloomberg says "may be the first pandemic of the social media age," physicians are virtually putting their heads together to come up with solutions and even save lives.
Social media can give you a chance to exchange ideas with colleagues around the world. Emergency medicine physician Helen Ouyang wrote of the importance of doing so for the New York Times, writing, "I open another browser tab and pull up Twitter, perusing the page for any new information. I pause at a small study here, a letter in an academic journal there. Any clinical information I can find, even an anecdote about a single patient, feels very useful."
Record and share your experiences
Just as we're learning from what's been happening in China, Iran, South Korea and Italy, physicians in other countries will learn from us as the pandemic expands. Keep track of your experiences. Best practices are important, but simply sharing stories can help, too.
For example, the European Society of Cardiology is assembling firsthand accounts from physicians working with COVID-19 patients from countries including Italy and China. Many have been utterly overwhelmed, yet they share their own stories of stress and burnout and read others' and know they're not alone.
In management? Ease the doctor's burden
Now is the time to ensure that everyone is working at the top of their license. The AMA developed a list of practical strategies for leadership, and several relate to workforce distribution, including the suggestion to "allow medical assistants and nurses to make contributions according to their ability, with physician or APP [advance practice provider] oversight and discretion." Take everything off a physician's plate other than the things only they can do.
You can also facilitate physician peer support. Physicians (and, for that matter, APPs) who are stuck at home in isolation or caring for children can manage the inboxes and phone calls of those who are on-site. If you have the power to make other physicians' lives easier, do it.
Be there, be useful
For those not treating COVID-19 patients, there are still countless ways you can help provide physician peer support. Talk to your local medical association or specialty organization to get suggestions. Review the AMA tips mentioned earlier. Ask your colleagues. Support the troops.
Let the words of emergency physician Dr. Joshua Lerner, writing in Scientific American, inspire you: "Our country won two world wars because the entire country mobilized. We outproduced and outmanufactured everyone else while our soldiers outfought the enemy. Today, we need that level of commitment again. Make no mistake: we are at war. Health care workers are your soldiers, and the battle has just begun."