OMA Spotlight on Health

Tweeting during COVID-19 with Dr. Jennifer Kwan

July 27, 2020 Ontario Medical Association Season 1 Episode 23
OMA Spotlight on Health
Tweeting during COVID-19 with Dr. Jennifer Kwan
Show Notes Transcript

In March 2020 Dr. Jennifer Kwan started a twitter account to share Ontario's daily COVID-19 case numbers. Now she has almost 20 thousand followers. In this episode, Dr. Kwan discusses social media advocacy, her campaign for mandatory masking (#Masks4Canada), and what she plans to highlight next. 

OMA Podcast Episode 23 - Tweeting During COVID-19 with Dr. Jennifer Kwan

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Voice-over: In this podcast the Ontario Medical Association looks at current health issues that are on everyone’s mind. Spotlight on Health gives you the straight talk. We’re Ontario’s doctors and your health matters to us.

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Anne Marie Flanagan: I’m Anne Marie Flanagan, I’m the Director of Media Relations and Social Media at the Ontario Medical Association.

Dr. Jennifer Kwan: I'm Dr. Jennifer Kwan. I'm a family physician from Burlington, Ontario.

Flanagan: And we're here today to talk about social media. 

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Flanagan: Dr. Kwan, you just recently joined Twitter and you've already gathered quite a following in a very short time. What made you join Twitter?  

Dr. Kwan: I joined Twitter in March because I was getting very concerned about the COVID-19 situation, and I wanted to raise awareness and share information with others. I started making graphs of the numbers of infections and deaths in Ontario, and I was glad to be able to share it with others, and that it was useful information for many.

Flanagan: How have you used it to communicate with patients, with the public, about COVID? 

Dr. Kwan: So, when we are looking at the numbers from the government websites, oftentimes it is difficult to understand what is a trend. Every day the government releases new numbers that we are unable to compare to yesterday's or the day before. So, when I started making graphs, I wanted to plot the trend line. And we could clearly see that things were growing exponentially. This helped alert the public to help them understand the severity of the situation.

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Flanagan: Because of the pandemic, people are really sort of seeing science at work. People are used to hearing about things after we already have more information about them, but now with social media and the pandemic, they have immediate access to information, and I think maybe sometimes it's hard for people to understand or process what's coming at them. Do you feel like you've helped people to interpret some of this?

Dr. Kwan: Certainly as a family doctor my job is often to translate medical jargon to something that's understandable for the average layperson. So, I hope that also with COVID-19, with all the mixed messages and confusing information, hopefully I was able to summarize it in a way as easy to understand for the general public.

Flanagan: Your tweets have drawn a lot of attention. What has your experience been like on Twitter? 

Dr. Kwan: I was very surprised with the positive reception to the graphs. It was helpful for both the general public, but also for physicians and researchers who wanted to get a understanding of the situation. I'm glad that I was able to contribute in my role as a family physician towards the pandemic in addition to my clinical practice.

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Flanagan: But you've been using social media for advocacy as well, particularly around the importance of wearing masks. I wondered if you would talk a little bit about that, the Masks For Canada, and about ACT.

Dr. Kwan: Masks For Canada is a group of physicians, researchers, and a lot of other concerned citizens—just a group of people who were concerned that masks were not being used as an intervention against COVID-19.  

So, we really felt it was important to advocate for mask wearing and to urge the government to mandate for high-risk settings—obviously, with exceptions for people who cannot wear masks and for young children. 

We do not want any fines or criminal penalties, but we want this to be about educating the public on how and when to wear a mask, and to encourage everyone to keep the reopening to be safe and sustainable. And we want this to be helpful for both everyone's health and for economic recovery.  

So, I met, generally, most of the members of this group over Twitter, actually. So, Twitter has been a great tool for us to connect with our like-minded goals and to network with other people.

Flanagan: So, Dr. Kwan, maybe you want to talk a little bit more about ACT, what that means, and what it stands for?

Dr. Kwan: ACT is an acronym that my group came up with to help people understand what would be considered a high-risk situation where we recommend wearing a mask. 

So, "A" stands for all indoor enclosed spaces outside of the home. So, for example, stores or businesses, schools when they open up for older children. "C" would be crowds, as in anywhere you cannot distance two metres from others. And "T" is transportation, so public transportation, buses or subways. 

So, hopefully that is an acronym to help you understand where they should wear a mask. And ACT is a good word to say that we do need to act now. 

Flanagan: And in terms of masks, I understand there's a bit of a growing body of science about masks and how masks have contributed to some of the success in certain countries fighting COVID. Is that your understanding?

Dr. Kwan: Definitely. Masks are an important intervention in addition to other things such as hand hygiene, distancing, and robust contact tracing programs and testing. 

Masks are one of the key tools, and it's not really a replacement for any of them. But because COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, it's so important to be able to control the source of droplets and to prevent transmission to one another. 

So, we really want people to be wearing masks in high-risk situations so that we can prevent recurrent outbreaks and lockdowns. 

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Flanagan: One of the things I've heard from a lot of different people that we have, a lot of different doctors that we've, talked to throughout the pandemic is how people have really come together through this time to help each other. Is that something you've experienced?

Dr. Kwan: Yeah, definitely. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of divide in the world right now, even though I thought that was a global pandemic, and the virus that attacks all of humanity, perhaps we should be uniting against the virus. But unfortunately, there has been a lot of political issues associated with the pandemic. 

But I really am encouraged that many people are working together from different disciplines, volunteering, taking care of one another, making cloth masks for the vulnerable. There's just so many positive things that have come out of it, too.

Flanagan: That's an interesting point you make. And I know, particularly in the early stages, there was some talk—well a fair bit of talk—in the media about racism and xenophobia and things like that coming out. Is that something you've witnessed first-hand? 

Dr. Kwan: In my neighbourhood, it has been pretty good. There's always subtle racism that oftentimes people of colour may experience. I would say that certainly Asian people—speaking because I am Asian—so, there has been a lot of hate towards Asian people because the origin of virus from China. So, it’s very important to distinguish that, even though the virus is from China, that it is not the fault of Chinese people or Asian people, but really we need to be united as Canadians so that we can fight this together and really not discriminate against one another in any way. 

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Dr. Kwan: There's a lot of issues that I would be interested in advocating for and sharing information with the public. A few come to mind. One would be mental health issues, for sure, is very important, and I really wish the public could understand it more. 

Flanagan: I think a lot of people don't understand what a big proportion it is of a family practice to have people coming in and talking about mental health concerns, and really watching out for that, because I think you probably hear a lot about that.

Dr. Kwan: Yeah, mental health is a very big proportion of family practice. And I would say every single day I have multiple patients coming in for mental health concerns, and almost every day somebody will be crying in my office, and that's normal. 

So, if someone out there listening thinks you're worried to talk to your doctor about it, don't be worried! It's a very common thing, and family physicians are trained to discuss this issue with you, to connect you with the appropriate resources, to talk about both non-medication therapy and also medication therapy. So, it's a very common issue—the main concern we face. So, don't hesitate to reach out to your family doctor.

Flanagan: Obviously, there's positives and negative roles that social media can play. What's your thoughts? Do you think, overall, it's helped? 

Dr. Kwan: Social media is a double-edged sword because it can help disseminate both useful information as well as false information. I think it's interesting that social media can allow professionals and physicians to discuss their opinions in public and other people can comment and interact. I think that's really interesting. 

I haven't been on Twitter before March, so to me I thought it was just a place to share memes and make jokes and things like that. Like, I—I didn't know there was a whole medical perspective of Twitter. So, I found that really interesting. 

So, I think that it's a good tool, if we can use it in the right way, and be able to share appropriate and factual information.

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Voice-over: This podcast is brought to you by the Ontario Medical Association. It is produced and edited by Jodi Crawford Productions. This podcast is not intended to provide medical advice for specific situations and is for general educational purposes only. Please consult your doctor if you have symptoms or questions about your health.

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