A Q&A with Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez
Edith Bracho-Sanchez, MD is a pediatrician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Broadway Practice, director of pediatric telemedicine for NYP’s Ambulatory Care Network, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia. Before joining the Department of Pediatrics last September she was the 2018-2019 Global Health and Media Fellow at Stanford University. Born in Caracas, Venezuela she came to the US at age 16, received her MD from NYU and completed her residency at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Bracho-Sanchez has appeared on NBC, PBS, NPR, and a number of other news outlets to provide expert commentary since the outbreak of COVID-19.
How is COVID-19 affecting the children and families you treat?
I think this is impacting some of us more than others, and I very much worry about our vulnerable families because they had a number of challenges before COVID-19. These are families who were already dealing with issues like food and housing insecurity, who were jumping through the many hoops of the immigration system, who work in the gig economy as Uber or Lyft drivers, for example, and who are now not able to work. We don’t have a good way to even grasp the potential magnitude of this for some of our families.
The only glimmer of hope that I have is that these families are so incredibly resilient and resourceful. They have faced incredible challenges before, and they always do whatever it takes to do the right thing for their children. So in that sense, I'm hopeful, but we can't fix problems based on hopes. Hope doesn't quite get us there. We do have to be thinking about the long term impacts of this.
What information do you give families who are anxious about COVID-19?
Every season I see kids with coughs and runny noses whose parents bring them in because they are concerned that their child may have the flu. And because I can tell whether their child has the flu or something else, I know what to tell my families, I know how to reassure them. What's happening with the new virus is completely unprecedented, and we as a medical community are still learning about it, so it's been difficult to provide the same kind of reassurance. But we're reminding parents that this is a respiratory virus, and some of the baseline respiratory virus guidance applies to this as well. Just like you know when to look for help when your child has the flu or a cold, those same things still apply. If something doesn't feel quite right, if your child is dehydrated or having trouble breathing, look for help.
How has COVID-19 spurred implementation of telemedicine at NYP and CUIMC?
Over the past several months we had been planning and very carefully and slowly thinking how we were going to roll out telemedicine, and we were just beginning the roll-out in pediatrics when COVID-19 hit. So the transition is now on quite a fast track. We’re continuing to provide high quality care, but using a modality of care that most of my colleagues were not familiar with just a week or two ago. And I have to say that I am amazed and very, very reassured by my colleagues' attitude and ability to do what's right for patients and quickly take up new technology and to learn it fast. Even though there are a number of challenges when you scale something new so quickly to so many people, my colleagues, who are just incredible physicians, are continuing to provide high quality care through a modality that is new to them. ColumbiaDoctors, whose faculty members provide subspecialty care, is also rapidly transitioning to telemedicine.
When it comes to preventative care where vaccines are involved, we still have to bring in small babies, but we have stopped seeing kids above the age of one who don't need vaccines. We're hoping that in the next few weeks we can reassess and decide if we can start bringing them back. But for now we're converting everything to virtual visits The strategy: if we can keep you home because you don't need vaccines, we’ll try to see you via telemedicine and avoid potential exposure and spread of the virus Eventually we're going to have to bring kids in and do school forms and physical exams, but not right now.
You’ve appeared in several major media outlets providing guidance on COVID-19 – how did that come about?
I started doing public service announcements with the American Academy of Pediatrics when I was a resident physician, and since then I worked full time at news organizations including ABC and CNN where I had practice going on air, in addition to the training in journalism I received at Stanford. While I was on staff for those outlets I often contacted CUIMC’s media relations team to request interviews with Columbia experts, so I had worked with the media relations team here before. Because I’ve been on both ends, the interviewer and the interviewee, I am very aware of the amount of preparation that goes into a media appearance, and when I'm called on to speak on a topic I show up incredibly prepared. I have read everything I can possibly read on the topic to complement my experience as a physician on the ground, because I know that when you're providing guidance to the public, there's a responsibility to find a balance between explaining the science—especially in a situation like this—and relaying the appropriate level of concern without being alarmist.