With all the news about Ebola, I suspect many of us are thinking about what our role might be in an outbreak. Certainly patients dying of this distressing disease can use excellent symptom management, but are there things we can learn from all this?

Here are my initial thoughts, but I would love to hear what others are thinking!

Lessons from Ebola in 2014

  1. Fear can make people crazy.
    1. Screening at airports and travel restrictions are unlikely to really protect us.
    2. A whole school in California closed because a student had been on board the plane with the second nurse infected in Dallas.
    3. Remember the Memorial Hospital calamity in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?
  2. Lethal infectious diseases can suddenly become a threat.
    1. SARS and avian flu could have been much scarier.
    2. Tens of thousands die from influenza in the US every year.
  3. Patients infected with Ebola, patients with advanced incurable disease, and all patients, deserve good care.
    1. In times of crisis, life-prolonging care has been denied to anyone with a DNR.
    2. It can be important to continually remind our colleagues and community that “our patients count too”!
  4. With preparations, supplies, and training it is possible to care for patients with scary diseases without harming healthcare workers or their families.
    1. The preparations and training now taking place in US hospitals may or may not be necessary for Ebola but may be essential for the next scary disease.
    2. More work developing telemedicine consultations could help alleviate our workforce shortage, help with continuity of care, and allow care without exposure to disease.
  5. Preparation and collaboration with other institutions can make a huge difference in a crisis.
    1. Several patients were cared for at Emory without upset but in Dallas, they weren’t prepared.
    2. After a series of hurricanes in Florida when gasoline supplies ran out, the hospices that could reach their patients had arrangements with farm co-ops for gasoline.
    3. Deliveries could stop. Hospitals could stockpile the medications and equipment a hospice or palliative care service would need to continue caring for critically ill patients at home.
  6. What really does matter, anyway?
    1. Ultimate “safety” in the face of our inevitable mortality may be an elusive goal.
    2. The good of the community might be one guiding principle
    1. It’s reasonable for scarce life-saving resources to be allocated to those most likely to survive.
    2. Even in times of crisis, our vulnerable patients still need our care.
    3. We might have a crucial role in caring for patients triaged to forgo life-extending care – if we are prepared.
    1. A crisis can bring out the worst in some but the best in others.
    1. There are lots of “quiet heroes” doing the right thing, even at risk to themselves and possibly their families.
    2. We can be a model being kind and generous, even in the scariest of times.

    As one of our brave colleagues who is readying herself to depart for a volunteer medical work in Liberia put it:

    We must encourage AAHPM members to be sure they are already incorporated into their own agency’s/facilities/organization’s disaster response team. Palliative care needs to be amongst the first groups to be activated.

    Palliative care in these humanitarian crises is crucial. While most responders will rightly be focused on the critical care, palliation for those with a month or less to live (potentially) is even more crucial.

    How do we bring our ‘touch’ to these, when we cannot touch?

    How can we see eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart through a hazmat suit?

    How do we help create legacy and foster healing for those loved ones who are on the other side of the quarantine wall?

    Fostering healing in a hurting world . . . “The first duty of love is to listen.” (Paul Tillich)

    Porter Storey MD FACP FAAHPM
    Executive VP, AAHPM
    Colorado Permanente Medical Group
    Boulder, CO