5 tips on talking to patients about coronavirus, from NIH Director Dr. Anthony Fauci

With the rising panic about spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S., healthcare providers must be careful about how they discuss the pandemic with patients.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, appeared on a podcast presented by NEJM Journal Watch, a digital and print publication for clinicians from different specialties.

During the podcast, Dr. Fauci offers advice on counseling patients about COVID-19, the disease caused by the cornavirus. Here are his five tips:

1. Give patients "the broad picture without unnecessarily sugarcoating." For example, tell them that according to data currently available, 80 percent of the people who get infected recover well, but those with underlying conditions have a much higher chance of having a complication. Children and young people, however, "do really, really well with this [infection]."

2. Tell patients not to take on "the burden of the broader global health issue" because in the U.S., in general, the risk of infection is low, especially if they are in a community where the infection is not spreading on its own.

3. For people living in communities where the infection does appear to be spreading on its own, such as Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Florida, tell them to separate themselves from other people as much as possible.

"No crowds. Don't get on crowded planes if you're a senior citizen, particularly with an underlying condition. Don't get on a cruise ship for sure," he said.

4. Tell patients to wash their hands and if they live with someone who is immunocompromised. They "almost have to act like [they themselves] are infected."

5. Tell patients to check CDC.gov and coronavirus.gov for updates and information related to the pandemic as well as advice.

"I want [people] not to panic because panic gets people to do unreasonable things that are even counterproductive to what you're trying to do from a public health standpoint. You might overwhelm systems when you don't need to overwhelm systems. But on the other hand, without panicking and without making it dominate your life, pay attention to the fact that you have to act differently. Like you've never acted before."

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