In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us find ourselves wondering what evidence-based information we should follow and what news sources to avoid. We may first choose to do this simply to keep ourselves sane and focused amidst the noise so that we can function as both private citizens and healthcare professionals.

Having said that, we are also likely to feel the heavy responsibility of skillfully curating information so that we can translate the firehose of pandemic-related information for our loved ones who turn to us for reassurance, education, and clarity. In this regard, where do we begin?

The Information Firehose

The metaphor of the information firehose in the context of COVID-19 could not be more apt. Podcasts, op-eds, research articles, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, journals, websites, social media: it’s a veritable flood without precedent, even in our information-soaked 21st-century world.

In this deluge of facts, figures, opinion, guidance, and conjecture, protecting ourselves from being overwhelmed is another full-time job. Between our responsibilities to our workplaces, families, friends, and communities, we may find a significantly heavy yoke on our already tired shoulders.

The majority working in the healthcare space are doubtless experiencing a sense of great moral and ethical duty to be well-informed as this pandemic continues to develop, and the reality is that the evolution is occurring at a dizzying pace. Being on the receiving end of frequently conflicting reports can send us around the bend, as can the haphazard and unfocused response from governmental bodies and other authorities.

However, as we view the efforts in responding to COVID-19 on the local, state, or even international scale, one thing for certain is that this near-universal societal and economic disruption are far from over. Under these conditions, those working within the healthcare ecosystem must keep their fingers on the flow of emerging evidence while staying personally balanced and professionally astute.

Choosing Our Sources Carefully

From the aforementioned podcasts, journals, research, journalism, and other varied sources, each healthcare provider must decide from where they would like to receive their education on this crisis that appears to advance on an hourly basis.

As new hot spots emerge and certain cities or regions move out of absolute crisis mode, the scales shift in one direction or another and resources must be reallocated on the fly. And just when we feel we have a handle on the basic presentation and symptomatology of COVID-19 patients, new criteria are put forward that have some clinicians and researchers scratching their heads.

Loss of the sense of smell and taste? Children and young people falling seriously ill who we previously felt certain would be spared? It has become painfully obvious that this is not H1N1, influenza, or Ebola, and all bets are apparently off as we watch closely for the next manifestation or twist in the story of this novel coronavirus.

Scientists, epidemiologists, virologists, and others are working around the clock on every continent in order to parse the data and find the next clue in this unfolding mystery. In light of this, the prudent clinician who values their very sanity will be highly selective in what data they consume and how they process what they learn.

Sensationalism and clickbait have no place here; rather, critical thinking must rule the day as we sift through the storm clouds of data for the gold that will inform our clinical practices and how we speak to our families, loved ones, and people we meet at the grocery store.

The Front Lines of Data Curation

Each healthcare provider or researcher on the front lines or not is likely to be questioned by those with whom he or she shares a bond or connection. With this comes the great responsibility of serving as a representative of the healthcare industry writ large and as a caring neighbor, friend, or family member who wants to impart solid intelligence without causing undue fear or panic.

In every circumstance, the professional in question must evaluate what is being asked, what the questioner seems to truly want to know, and how their queries should be responded to. An anxious 90-year-old widow does not require the same response as the 44-year-old mother of four, nor does the teenage boy who shakes with fear at news that gun stores are selling out of ammunition and firearms.

Every question must be weighed, as does the moral and ethical balance of how to keep one’s family and friends educated and calmed. Even as the earnest healthcare professional seeks information for him- or herself, it must also be considered how to impart just the right facts to those who need to hear them in some form or another.

These are challenging and confusing times, and healthcare professionals on the front lines of patient care, research, or leadership are also in many ways on the front lines of the curation of information from the metaphorical firehose. Not to be envied by this challenge, thousands of such heroes are stepping up the plate each day, and we can feel nothing but gratitude for their Herculean labors on behalf of so many.