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The Role of Communication During COVID-19

"When the shutdown to elective surgery struck my community, I responded like many other surgeons. I looked at ways to shift patients from the ED to our clinics, coordinated a walk-in clinic for acute injuries complete with staffing, and drowned myself in Zoom meetings. After a few weeks, it was clear that we would not see a surge like the one in New York City yet there were still needs in Minnesota. One of my critical care colleagues, Dr. Jeff Chipman, was charged with opening our COVID-19 hospital, Bethesda Hospital. The conversion from a long-term care facility to a 75-beds and three ICU hosptial took 72 hours including negative pressure rooms and HEPA filtration.

As the facility filled, communication became a clear challenge. When Dr. Chipman called, he told me how difficult it was for staff to connect with family. The combination of personal protective equipment and the absence of visitations meant that nurse-family communication was limited. For physicians, who were constantly moving from one patient in PPE to another, it was even more difficult to find time in the schedule.

My role was to round with the ICU teams and then connect with families. The teams provided incredible care and have the survival statistics to show for it. Meanwhile, I had the time. Therefore, I was able to coordinate care on the phone and answer all the family questions. 

For me, the biggest learning was how difficult it is for these families of critically ill patients to face the unknown. When I would call, there was audible relief on the line. It was a blessing to be able to inform them and reduce their concern and anxiety.

When the news was bad, it was powerful to be able to support them as best as I could. Soon the moratorium on elective surgery was lifted and I was back to work in clinic and the OR, but my weeks spent as a family liaison at Bethesda was a powerful reminder of the role of communication in good patient care."

– Jonathan Braman, MD, FAAOS