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Telehealth and humanism: unexpected partnership forged during COVID-19
  1. Mindy Stimell-Rauch,
  2. Leanna R Szalay,
  3. Joan Bregstein
  1. Emergency Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mindy Stimell-Rauch, Emergency Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY 10032, USA; ms568{at}

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It was the middle of a busy telehealth shift and a paediatric case entered my virtual waiting room. A mother was calling about her well-appearing toddler with low-grade fever and cough. This would have been a mundane encounter had it not been for the history that the father, a healthy man in his 30s, was critically ill with COVID. Initially stoic, the mother recounted his course, beginning with dry facts that morphed into an emotion-filled narrative of her husband, his illness and their relationship. She exposed fears about her own health, fantasies of hospitalisation and the fate of her daughter should this occur. It was apparent this call was not about a child with a viral Upper Respiratory Infection (URI). I provided reassurance that she and her daughter would be fine. I hoped I was right. She seemed consoled, but ‘One more question, doctor’, she asked, ‘can I hug my baby?’ Yes, I told her, you can hug her. She cried. The encounter ended. I cried. Prior to COVID, this presentation would have been given a diagnosis of generic viral syndrome. Now a 2-year-old toddler with viral symptoms is more ominous. This encounter is now about a toddler who may lose her father. It’s about the mother who may lose her husband and the fear of her own hospitalisation. It’s about the danger of a hug.

It was 20:00. A 77-year-old woman with …

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  • Handling editor Ellen J Weber

  • Contributors All authors (MS-R, LRS and JB) met ICMJE requirements for authorship, including substantial contributions to the conception of the work, drafting and revising for important intellectual content, final approval of the version to be published and agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, conduct, reporting or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.