In early March, most doctors in the United States had never seen a person sick with COVID-19. Four months later, nearly every emergency room and intensive care physician in the country is intimately familiar with the disease. In that time, they’ve learned a lot about how best to treat patients. But in some cases, they’re still taking the same approach they did in the spring.
“There’s so much that’s different, and so much that’s the same,” says Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate professor at the Brown University Department of Emergency Medicine.
For the first few months of the pandemic, recommendations for every incremental decision made in a hospital were changing faster than they ever have before. “You almost couldn’t keep up — from one day to the next, your practice would change and your protocols would change. It was really disorienting for doctors and nurses,” Ranney says.
Information spread between colleagues, through medical education blogs and podcasts, and on social media. Doctors talked about new research on Twitter and shared new strategies in Facebook groups and on WhatsApp. If a suggestion that floated by a doctor in a Facebook group was low-risk and seemed like it might be helpful, it could be put into practice immediately. “If it’s a small change, they could start using it the next day,” she says.
That’s how the now-common practice of asking patients with COVID-19 to flip onto their stomachs spread: through word-of-mouth and on social media. When someone is on their back, their organs squish their lungs and make it harder for their airways to fully expand. When someone is on their stomach, their lungs have more room to fill up with air. The advice started circulating through the medical community before there was a formal, published study on the practice. [Continue reading…]