The role of FOAM and social networks in COVID-19


Social networks

Online social networks composed of international physicians within Facebook and LinkedIn serve as miniature publishing houses. First-hand accounts of patient presentations and patient care act as case reports. As similar accounts accumulate, they become case series. Patterns emerge and new hypotheses are generated, debated, and critiqued through this informal peer review. Personal accounts of frustration with lack of PPE, fear of exposing loved ones, distress at being separated from family, and grief of witnessing multiple patients die alone are opinion and perspective articles.

Dr. Joelle Simpson, Children's National Hospital, Washington

Dr. Joelle Simpson

These networks offer the space for sharing. Those who have had the experience of caring for the surge of COVID-19 patients offer advice and words of caution to those who have yet to experience it. Protocols from a multitude of institutions on triage, surge, disposition, and end-of-life care are disseminated, serving as templates for those that have not yet developed their own. There is an impressive variety of innovative, do-it-yourself projects surrounding PPE, intubation boxes, and three-dimensionally printed ventilator parts.

Finally, these networks provide emotional support. There are offers to ship additional PPE, videos of cities cheering as clinicians go to work, stories of triumph and recovery, pictures depicting ongoing wellness activities, and the occasional much-needed humorous anecdote or illustration. These networks reinforce the message that our lives continue despite this upheaval, and we are not alone in this struggle.

The end of the passage in The Great Influenza concludes with: “Ultimately a scientist has nothing to believe in but the process of inquiry. To move forcefully and aggressively even while uncertain requires a confidence and strength deeper than physical courage.”

FOAM and social networks are crucial channels for collecting and conveying up-to-date information during disasters. They represent a highly adaptable, evolving, and collaborative global community’s determination to persevere through time of uncertainty together.

Dr. Ren is a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s National Hospital, Washington. Dr. Simpson is a pediatric emergency medicine attending and medical director of emergency preparedness at the hospital. They reported that they do not have any disclosures or conflicts of interest. Email Dr. Ren and Dr. Simpson at [email protected].


1. “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.” (New York: Penguin Books, 2005, pp. 261-62).

2. Emerg Med J. 2014 Oct;31(e1):e76-7.

3. Acad Med. 2014 Apr;89(4):598-601.

4. “The Internet Book of Critical Care: COVID-19.” EMCrit Project.

5. “Covid-19.” REBEL EM-Emergency Medicine Blog.

6. “EM:RAP COVID-19 Resources.” EM RAP: Emergency Medicine Reviews and Perspectives.

7. “Episodes.” Peds RAP, Hippo Education.


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