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On front lines of COVID-19: The struggle to stay informed

Thursday, March 26, 2020 @ 10:50 AM | By Chantel Josiak

Chantel Josiak %>
Chantel Josiak
As an OR nurse, my day looks drastically different than it did two weeks ago. All elective and non-essential surgeries have been postponed, so I am answering calls for Telehealth. The phone rings, as it has all day, non-stop. Wearily, I pick up and say, “Good afternoon, Health link, Nurse speaking,” and hear a nervous and frightened woman on the other end.

I discover this woman is 32 weeks pregnant and she’s worried about catching COVID-19 while pregnant. I do my best to sound calm and reassuring, while providing “up-to-date” information on how to stay healthy during pregnancy. I was pregnant during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and clearly remember the fear of getting ill with a new, widespread virus. I relate to her questions and fears and share her concerns about keeping her unborn child safe.

In the final segment of this series, we explore the struggle to stay up to date with current knowledge of the emerging COVID-19 illness.

Disseminating accurate knowledge

Registered nurses are the largest regulated health-care provider group in Canada and consistently rank highly as one of the most trusted professions. Fundamentally, when someone encounters a nurse, they feel at ease trusting them to answer their personal health questions. There are immense professional responsibilities that come with trust, one of which is the responsibility to provide accurate and timely health information.

With such a fluid and novel situation, staying on top of the most up-to-date information is challenging. Health-care workers are struggling to keep up with the intense physical, mental and emotional demands required daily. Finding time, sometimes hourly, to stay current on COVID-19 information is almost overwhelming. Nurses inherently teach the public about health, so the ability to anticipate concerns and answer questions with accurate information is essential.

But some of the most important questions, about prevalence, spread, reinfection, vaccines and timelines remain unanswered. For everyone. In general, health care relies on practice guidelines, peer-reviewed published research or regional policies to guide practice. However, with something as new and evolving as COVID-19, the usual information sources are inadequate or non-existent.

Rather, the quickest way to disseminate information in a crisis is through radio, TV and print media sources, so health-care providers are relying on the same information sources as the general public.

An interesting twist from prior global crises includes the use of online media (e.g., websites, podcasts, apps) or social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as information sources. Knowing when to trust not only the information, but the informer, is challenging. For instance, I wonder how many people believed Fox TV’s Geraldo Rivera saying that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, you don’t have the virus. And then there’s the nanosilver toothpaste that kills the virus at point-blank range.

Accurate information is the single most powerful weapon we have right now. The ability to direct the public to accurate sources, interpreting information, answering questions and dispelling misinformation are increasingly vital responsibilities of all health-care providers. A fundamental role in public health is to provide accurate information on the prevention and spread of disease. In the midst of this current COVID-19 crisis, we are all in public health.

Health-care workers have many of the same concerns as average Canadians, plus the added burdens of caring for those most affected, caring for themselves during a crisis and keeping up to date on the facts and stats of an emerging illness. In the coming weeks and months, our already over capacity Canadian health-care system will be tested.

Despite the strain, in Canada and globally, millions of health-care providers continue to deliver high-quality care, based on the best available information. The good news, for all of us, is that every crisis has a beginning, a middle and an end. We trust that we will emerge from COVID-19 stronger, smarter, more resilient and better prepared for the next crisis.

This is part three of a three-part series. Part one: On front lines of COVID-19; part two: On front lines of COVID-19: Mental and physical burdens.

Chantel Josiak is a registered nurse and legal nurse consultant with Connect Medical Legal Experts, a national company that provides health-care expertise to lawyers involved in personal injury, medical malpractice and class action litigation.

Photo credit / upixa ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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