HealthMay 27, 2020

COVID-19: Sharing the latest credible medical Information with your patients

By: Heidi Moawad, MD

As you stay on top of the latest COVID-19 developments, you can provide patients with credible medical information that’s relevant to their health issues.

As you yourself try to keep up with COVID-19, you probably can't help but worry about your patients and their ability to identify the most credible medical information while sorting through endless streams of news online and on television.

You might also be concerned that your patient population faces challenges that aren't addressed in news geared toward the general public. For example, you might take care of pregnant women, patients with cancer, children or people who have asthma - groups that all face unique considerations when it comes to COVID-19 risks and consequences. Naturally, you want your patients to know if the infection could affect them differently than it does others.

The COVID-19 pandemic is only one example of how physicians can be a source of reliable information at crucial times in a patient's life. The best way to be there for your patients is by being yourself - that is, communicating the way you do best and the way your patients are used to hearing from you. Here are a few good options.

For the latest COVID-19 resources and tools from Wolters Kluwer Health, visit Health Clarity.

Your practice website

There are many ways to provide solid advice to your patients on your practice website, if you have one. Whether you're a specialist or a primary care physician, use your knowledge of why your patients come to see you to address their specific health concerns.

For example, if you're a primary care doctor, you can provide advice about questions like when to call the doctor or how to get routine medication prescriptions when you're social distancing. Or if you're a specialist such as a rheumatologist, you can provide tips about how to maintain an adequate supply of hydroxychloroquine or whether symptoms of the virus are different in people who have immune dysfunction. You can create this content yourself or repost a link you found helpful.

If you're especially good at communicating and want to be a reassuring personal presence for your patients, you might consider posting a video of yourself explaining these issues rather than providing written tips. This can also be comforting for your young patients. According to the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, kids experience the condition differently from adults, but they aren't immune to it. And since kids may be anxious and troubled, a message from you can be helpful as they cope with the changes going on in their lives.

And don't forget to call on the talents of your whole office team. Your staff members might have skills in technology and be able to help by keeping your practice website up to date for patients who have concerns about health issues in the news.

Your professional email list

Some medical practices may have an email mailing list for current and former patients. This can be a good way to reach people, especially if you have a specific piece of advice you want to share that your patients wouldn't see otherwise. As with your website, you can email brief bullet points or detailed guidelines, share links or post your own videos.

Keep in mind that recipients can unsubscribe or forward your emails, so those who are more interested will continue to receive and share the information you send, while those who are less interested always have the option to simply ignore it.

Handouts, mailings and phone messages

It's also possible that your patient population may prefer to receive hard-copy mailings or handouts. Some people trust facts that they can hold in their own hands over online content, while others simply don't like to use the internet. Or if your patients tend to prefer phone calls, consider calling their homes with a personalized prerecorded message.

While your patients likely have access to the news from other sources, these directed approaches can give you the opportunity to point out issues that you specifically don't want them to miss.

Social media

Social media represents an approach that's somewhat less direct but no less common. Many medical practices have a Facebook page or a Twitter handle, and some doctors even use Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok for patient outreach. And you might also use one or more of these platforms to connect with friends rather than for professional reasons.

Keep in mind that the news you share on your social media accounts has an impact. If people know that a doctor they respect is in favor of or against something like social distancing, that statement carries weight. You can have a positive influence on your own social network by sharing credible medical information that you consider to be valuable.

Heidi Moawad, MD