October 14, 2020
4 min read
Bloomgarden ED, et al. Making an IMPACT: Leaning into the power of the physician mom. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit; Oct. 9-10, 2020 (virtual meeting).
Disclosures: Bloomgarden reports no relevant financial disclosures.
Fighting medical misinformation is an urgent priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, and physician mothers are uniquely positioned to leverage dual identities to help the public and policymakers discern what is true, according to a speaker.
Nearly 9 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a “shocking” amount of misinformation about the novel coronavirus remains easily accessible, confusing the public and potentially putting people at risk, Eve D. Bloomgarden, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, metabolism and molecular medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said during a breakout session at the virtual Women in Medicine Summit. Health care workers — particularly those who are parents actively participating in online parent groups — are uniquely positioned to fight the “infodemic” and disseminate high-quality information quickly, she said.
“Our positions as physicians, but also as parents, put us in a position that uniquely allowed us to communicate rapidly between the medical community and the parent community, because we had one foot equally in each world,” Bloomgarden told Healio. “We were as invested in the parenting part of it as the medical part of it. That is how we came together.”
Mobilizing for good
The coming together of parent-physicians started just before St. Patrick’s Day in March in the greater Chicago area, Bloomgarden said. Several physicians, concerned by scenes of crowded bars, events full of unmasked people, and a packed O’Hare International Airport full of travelers trying to get home, began posting messages in online physician parenting groups, sounding alarms. The members shared their worries that more needed to be done to protect people from the novel coronavirus, and quickly.
“We started posting in our mom groups and in our doctor-mom and doctor-dad groups,” Bloomgarden told Healio. “We came together, and within hours, we wrote a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and our state representatives with signatures from hundreds of doctors, calling for a shutdown.”
“The beauty of that was within 12 hours, we had mobilized as a group, put together a letter and collected hundreds of health care worker signatures, and then delivered it to Gov. Pritzker in Illinois,” Laura J. Zimmermann, MD, MS, FACP, assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at Rush University, said during the session. “We continued to do this work. At some point, we said, ‘Let’s organize. Let’s call ourselves something.’”
The concerned parent-physicians soon formed IMPACT — the Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team — a coalition of all-volunteer, parent-physicians and health professionals working to identify and meet the needs of Illinois health care workers and communities, particularly with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition was designed to leverage social networks and novel communication strategies to engage with the public in new ways, identify information gaps and improve health care delivery.
“Early on, there was a void of accurate, evidence-based information from credible resources,” Bloomgarden said. “We really felt like, ‘How could we not say something?’ This had serious implications for our lives. Our children were out of school. A lot of us are dual physician couples, and there was so much anxiety about who would watch our kids, what would happen if we both were called to a COVID unit. What if we died? We were really motivated to get involved.”
Today, IMPACT works to amplify health care workers’ voices to guide policymakers and the public during the pandemic. This includes partnering with organizations nationally to move forward the goal of ending the pandemic, Bloomgarden said.
“To date we’ve written more than 20 op-eds, we’ve been in Forbes, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune,” Bloomgarden said. “One of us has a weekly segment on the local news, answering questions on the pandemic. We are also active on social media, amplifying good sources of information. We are only successful because there are many of us. None of us could do this alone.”
Rapid response strategy
IMPACT initially included two endocrinologists, an oncologist, two primary care physicians and one hospitalist across six institutions. Today, the group has expanded to include more than 30 members, including nurse practitioners, pharmacists, communications specialists and medical students, Zimmermann said during the session. The group works to identify a gap or issue primarily through social media discourse with other health care workers. The group then quickly produces op-eds for local or national media, creates infographics, Facebook interviews or blog posts.
“We are reinforcing messages that in our medical or scientific communities seem obvious,” Zimmermann said. “It seems obvious and clear that maintaining a 6-foot distance would decrease transmission of the virus, but sometimes these messages need to be reinforced and are not clear-cut to the public. That is a real role we have been filling as health care workers.”
Additionally, IMPACT uses Facebook mom groups to accelerate action and help other groups start advocacy efforts across the country, Bloomgarden said.
“Mom connections” are essential to the group’s success, Bloomgarden said.
“We’ve expanded our mission from the pandemic to talk about disparities and inequities and voting,” Bloomgarden said. “We have a huge new push for voting, and striving for racial and gender equity.”
“The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated inequities and also the concentration of privilege,” Zimmermann said. “We know that our profession gives us credibility. We know that our positions as health care workers make us strong advocates for our communities. We are bearing witness to the extra burden that the pandemic is placing on our patients. We can speak to that, and we can be their advocates.”