Okay, we had to go there, right? But don’t worry, this isn’t another piece on 10-Steps-to-Protect-Yourself-from-the-Coming-Pandemic, or 50-Things-You’re-More-Likely-to-Die-From-than-Ebola post. We just thought that Ebola is something that as healthcare professionals our readers will have a unique perspective on, and so maybe it’s worth discussing. As a professional in any field it’s always interesting, and often frustrating when a story that has to do with the specifics of your field breaks into the mainstream news cycle. Things tend to get twisted, distorted, elided, or just plain mixed up. Yet, at the same time there is a real story here. Ebola is real, and it is scary, and we should care about it, but how can we interact with others about it in a way that is professional, helpful, and insightful?
This is a question we imagine a lot of healthcare professionals have. Whether it’s browsing your Facebook feed or reading the op-eds, a conversation with a neighbor or an invitation to speak at a conference, chances are you are aware of both the situation and certain mischaracterizations of the situation. So, have you responded? Which concerns you most? Here are a few that we think are among the most common unhelpful responses:
- The Hysterical Response – This is the sort of breathless reporting that tends to go viral at the beginning of these types of news cycles. It’s the approach that is short on facts or evidence, but long on conjecture, speculation, slippery slopes and anything else that seems likely to induce hyperventilation and generalized anxiety. There are scary things in the world, and of course Ebola is one of them, but we’ve all seen it reported in ways that have a lot more to do with shock than information.
- The Over-It Response – This is the opposite of the hysterical response–you know, the article about how you are more likely to die by having a piano dropped on your head than contracting Ebola. It tends to be long on statistics but short on context. While one doesn’t mind being reminded that so far Ebola has harmed very, very few people in this country, it can be frustrating when this fact is used, seemingly to disparage or make light of real concerns. The danger of Ebola is its potential… what it could do in the future, not to mention what it has done outside of the United States. So, while having the appearance of bringing some sobriety to the subject, the Over-It response can be just as obnoxious, and just as misleading as the Hysterical.
- The Political Response – You’ve got to love the way the media and social networking can turn anything into a chance to score political points, usually within 24 hours. Of course there are political questions that surround any kind of major public health questions, from preparedness and response, to public policy moving forward, but the crassness of these responses can be pretty disheartening. Further, what happens when the political angle actually gets in the way of telling and assessing the truth about the situation? What happens when medical professionals can’t give honest opinions without being filtered through a political lens?
- The Faux Medical Response – Perhaps the most cringe-worthy response of all for someone who actually knows something about medicine and human biology is the source that knows just enough to sound educated without knowing enough to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. This is the person that’s always citing unnamed studies that show the opposite of what the broader medical community has said. They tend to be contrarians, and often have numerous degrees from obscure schools and backgrounds in specialties that you’ve never heard of. But somehow they always end up on the talk shows, and providing the sound bites.
So, what about you? What kinds of responses concern you the most? Where have you seen really good, sober analyses of the situation? What are your biggest concerns about Ebola, and what do you think is being blown out of proportion? We’d love to hear from some readers on this, particularly health care providers themselves.