Over the past few years, Mikhail Varshavski, DO—better known to many as Doctor Mike—and Jennifer Caudle, DO, have become two of the more recognizable faces in the osteopathic profession due to their skyrocketing popularity as medical experts for national news outlets. They both also create medical content for their own social media accounts.
The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has made their content that much more popular, as audiences seek reliable, authoritative explanations of information that is constantly changing.
Dr. Mike, a family physician who practices in Chatham and Summit, New Jersey, has amassed millions of followers across YouTube and other social media platforms. His recent Q&A with Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has received over 5.4 million views on YouTube alone.
Dr. Caudle, another family physician who is also an associate professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, has built a solid following herself on the same platforms.
Over the last two months, The DO has been speaking with osteopathic physicians on the front lines of COVID-19. If you are a physician and would like to be featured in an interview as we continue our COVID-19 coverage, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week we spoke with Drs. Mike and Caudle, who have both transitioned to remote patient care and are working hard to keep the public well-informed. In this edited Q&A, they discuss their content, how they stay up to date during COVID-19 and how to deliver difficult news.
How has your content changed due to the pandemic?
Dr. Caudle: The thing about COVID-19 is that it’s new. There’s so much that we seem to be learning every day. People have questions, and they’re endless. Some I have the answers to, some I don’t.
I’ve been putting out more content that’s geared toward trying to educate people on do’s and don’ts.
Dr. Mike: I’ve definitely been more active in sharing the content I’m creating. I’ll take a video I made for YouTube, and I’ll repackage it in a way that works for other social media sites, just so I can get as many people educated on a subject as possible.
What common questions have you been fielding?
Dr. Mike: There’s been a lot of misinformation put forward that suggests that COVID-19 is similar to the flu and that we’re perhaps overreacting to it in our response from a governmental standpoint.
I frequently have to address why it’s different, and explain why these social distancing measures are absolutely necessary. Whether they’ve been confused by misinformation or the changing stances from our leading institutions, people have questions about day-to-day experiences.
Dr. Caudle: People are always interested in how our knowledge of the symptoms is evolving, and how they can live healthier lives. They are also asking questions about contamination in their shoes, hair, clothes and groceries. They’re really interested in the most practical aspects of life and trying to stay as safe as possible.
What advice would you give to physicians on sharing bad news?
Dr. Caudle: It’s in your delivery, and remembering to be fair and balanced. A general level of compassion, as well as understanding that the information you’re giving may be difficult for people to swallow, goes a long way.
People can sense that you are compassionate about how they feel and how this information may affect them, even if you can’t give them all good news.
Dr. Mike: Understand that you’re speaking to a diverse audience, and put information out there as empathetically as possible. I like to take the most honest, optimistic approach, and say ‘we’re going to get through this, here are the steps we’re taking to get through it.’
There’s no use sugar-coating something because then you lose credibility with your viewer or your patient. Be as honest as you can be based on what we know, but also what we don’t know.
What advice would you give to DOs who may find themselves fielding more media requests than ever before?
Dr. Mike: Be very well prepared. Practice and rehearse your answers, but don’t just read them.
Also, make sure you know your statistics, and if you’re given a question you don’t know the answer to, be honest that you don’t know, but say you’ll know where to get the answer and give it to the reporter after.
Dr. Caudle: One of the things I encourage people to do is just jump in there. It doesn’t have to be a highly-produced video or anything like that, it can just be a 15-second PSA or reminder.
People are really craving information from those who are on the front lines and physicians who have insight into all that’s happening.
What are the reliable sources you use to stay informed?
Dr. Caudle: I primarily use the WHO and the CDC, and then medical journals like New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). I make sure all of my information is as evidence-based as it can be.
Dr. Mike: Beyond the CDC and the WHO and journals like NEJM, I confer with the social media medical community. There are a lot of great evidence-based physicians on Twitter that share information, and as soon as something new is published, we start discussing it.
The ability for us to share these research articles and dig through them together yields better outcomes than if I just looked at it myself.
Dr. Mike, how did you come up with the hashtag #AlertNotAnxious, which has gained popularity during COVID-19?
Dr. Mike: I believe I heard “alert, not anxious” in the past from one of the physicians who trained me as a medical student. It’s been so ingrained in me that I’ve been saying it for over a decade now.
It’s a piece of advice I give to my patients when I explain to them that they should know what’s normal for their body and what’s not. If you give patients steps to take and they know what to do if things aren’t normal, it eases their anxiety.