Doctor with coronavirus turns to Twitter with his experience

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the US, healthcare providers, industry experts take to Twitter to dispel myths.
By Laura Lovett
01:53 pm
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After his coronavirus diagnosis, Dr. Yale Tung Chen, an emergency room doctor at Hospital Universitario La Paz in Madrid, was sent into quarantine. But this became an opportunity for him to educate the public about the virus. 

Now four days into his isolation, Chen has actively posted live updates on Twitter about his condition and fielded questions from fellow Twitter users, providing a first-person point of view. 

It’s no secret there is a lot of fear and concern around the spreading virus. This morning the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic. The numbers have been growing — according to the most recent WHO situation report, there are 113,702 confirmed cases and 4,012 deaths from the disease.

“We always have so many questions before these epidemics start. Right now, we are all learning,” Chen told MobiHealthNews Wednesday morning. “It has been a whole new world to me. I never expected a tweet I would send would have this reaction – to go all over the world. I’m in the position to educate people about this disease.”

In addition to just symptoms, Chen has also posted ultrasound scans on Twitter, which he took through Butterfly's smartphone-connected ultrasound device.

So far, his symptoms have been relatively mild – cough, diarrhea and congestion. For Chen, a father of two, the isolation has been the hardest part about the condition.

“Nothing traumatic. Just waiting to get past the symptoms. I’m counting the days to get a second test until I can get out of isolation,” Chen said. “I’m expected to reach that point. The most anxious experience [for] me is not being with my kids and my wife.”

While Chen’s perspective as both a doctor and patient is unique, many industry players have turned to Twitter to help dispel the myths building up around the coronavirus.

WHO has also dipped into social media to provide accurate information. While the organization has been using Twitter and Facebook for years, it's also posted videos on TikTok to present information on the virus.

However, it can be difficult for new social media users to separate the hype from the reality.

“Many turn to social media as a reaction to this emergency. But the problem is that those people haven't developed a network of friends and trusted sources. In these instances, they follow the drama and not the details,” John Nosta, the president of health tech thought group NostaLab, wrote to MobiHealthNews in an email. “If you're new to social media I would avoid the sensationalized headline and follow well-established sources like the WHO and traditional news outlets. It's good to see that some paywalls have been eliminated so we all can get access to information.”

Several healthcare providers have also taken to social media to call out racist or xenophobic myths linked to the disease. For example, activist and emergency room physician Dr. Esther Choo recently tweeted about ways to combat xenophobia

“Please help combat xenophobia: 

1. Don't call COVID-19 'Chinese coronavirus' or the 'Wuhan virus' 

2. Don't shun Asian people or businesses 

3. Call out racism in the media when you see it (stories on COVID do not need to have a photo of an Asian person, tyvm),” she tweeted.

Historically, social media has been a mixed bag when it comes to getting medical information. However, as the coronavirus continues to emerge as a major public health concern, several social media giants have laid out plans to curb misinformation.

In early February Facebook announced that it would be removing false claims and conspiracy theories about the disease posted on its social media platforms. The Menlo Park-headquartered company said that it is working with a network of third-party fact checkers to review information. If a piece of information is rated as false, the company pledges to limit its spread on Facebook and Instagram. 

Meanwhile in the UK, the NHS announced that it is working with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to provide the public with accurate information about COVID-19 and prevent the spread of “fake news.”

Google plans on providing verified, easy-to-access NHS guidance when someone searches for information on the virus, while both Twitter and Facebook are directing users to the NHS website.

Overall, the take-home message is an emphasis on precautionary measures.

“I would like to say a message of reassurance to everybody. We know how to prevent it. We need to follow the [guidelines] to prevent the infection,” Chen said. “That is, wash your hands, avoid any mass gathering places, try not to cough on other people. [Those are] the most important measures to follow.”

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A patient uses a smartphone screening test to analyze stroke-like symptoms she's experiencing.

A patient at Houston Methodist Hospital, participates in a smartphone screening test to analyze stroke-like symptoms she's experiencing. Photo credit: Houston Methodist Hospital.

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