Nfld. & Labrador

Piping up for the public good: Why these doctors take to Facebook to talk COVID-19

Two western Newfoundland doctors are using social media every week to answer questions about the pandemic.

Physicians Dave Thomas and Amy Pieroway hosting weekly pandemic chats

Doctors Dave Thomas and Amy Pieroway cohost a weekly podcast where the public can ask questions about the pandemic. (Dave Thomas/Facebook)

Their viewers come from near urban and remote areas. Their audience is appreciative, and always inquisitive. And they stick to their mandate of sharing relevant and accurate information regarding the pandemic.

Physicians Dave Thomas and Amy Pieroway are using a weekly live stream on Facebook to take questions and share their expertise on family medicine. 

"We want to spread accurate information and to answer the questions of the people in our communities, of our patients," said Pieroway, the chief of family medicine for Western Health.

"We want to provide support and information and be a resource in times of uncertainty."

The initiative began through discussions with the Long Range Family Practice Network, a network of physicians spanning the west coast of the province.

The first two streams attracted thousands of viewers, both live and after the initial airing. 

"Every patient encounter we've had as family physicians, since the pandemic started … had that background flavour of uncertainty and pandemic-related burnout," said Pieroway, who is based in Corner Brook.

"We knew that our patients had questions and worries and fears, and, except for one on one, we really didn't have a way to address them."

A key priority: hope

The streams have answered that call, and provided an easy outlet for people with concerns or questions.

While they focus solely on COVID-19, the topics can range depending on what part of the region the viewer is from, and what health services are available in his or her community.

We knew that our patients had questions and worries and fears, and, except for one on one, we really didn't have a way to address them.- Amy Pieroway

"I try to answer with hope, which means I don't think we're going to be back to normal, as we've all experienced it, any time soon, but that doesn't mean things are going to look the way they do right now, forever," she said.

One of the points the doctors are adamant about is that primary care is available as it always was, and people need to ensure they are being seen by health care professionals when ill. 

The COVID-19 pandemic swept into North America this winter. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

"Our family physicians are an integral part of our communities … and if you do need to talk to somebody about something that's going on, or need to touch base about medical issues, do reach out to your family physicians," Pieroway said. 

In addition to access to general practitioners, Pieroway says emergency departments are also staffed and accessible to all.

"If it's something you would have gone to emerg for, an emergency, before the pandemic, please still go," she said. "The emergency department has processes in place to make sure that people are as safe as possible when they come in."

Putting myths in the trashcan  

Another important part of primary care the two want to stress is that people take care of their mental wellbeing during this stressful time. 

Thomas said there's a real risk of people's mental health deteriorating.

Dr. Dave Thomas is chief of staff of the Rural South region of Western Health, which includes the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre in Port aux Basques. (Contributed)

"It's really important to let people know what the resources are and lean on their primary care providers and the resources that currently exist in the system," he said. "We're there for them and it's only a matter for patients to reach out."

The streams will continue for the coming weeks. The two doctors say they are committed to the project as long as there's a need.

In fact, Thomas, the chief of staff for the rural south region of Western Health, says he'd like to see greater engagement each week.

"I can see this growing to hopefully certainly include all the membership of the west coast of Newfoundland and that's our goal but if it expands past that, it's great," he said. 

Thomas applauds the work of the chief medical officer of health and public health officials is keeping people informed during their daily updates. 

The weekly stream is more about ensuring correct information is disseminated and giving the public a chance to engage.

"We're behind [the province's health officials] them 100 per cent and I think the population is as well," he said.

"We're just trying to encourage that message and take out those myths that exist there."

The online forum runs Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m. from David M. Thomas's Facebook page.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Troy Turner


Troy Turner is a veteran journalist who has worked throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in both print and broadcast. Based in Corner Brook, he is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland Morning.

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