A Dose of the Prevention Plan

15 Apr

I know, it has been a long time since my last blog post, and I truly apologize. For some reason my desire to blog seemed to disappear, but today I got it back, and just at the right time! In my campaigns class, we had guest speaker Kathy Fleming talk to us. She  has worked on public relations teams for various health organizations and health clients. So pretty much the perfect person for a health communication junkie me to get to listen to. Currently her client is U.S. Preventive Medicine. Being that our health care system is crashing and burning right now, I was curious to find out more about this new organization. U.S. Preventative Medicine is launching a Prevention Plan, which is a new, fresh approach to health that focuses more on the prevention of disease, and not the cure. Its vision is to make the world a healthier place; its mission is to deliver better and lower health care costs through preventative medicine.

Immediately, I thought that this was a fantastic idea for improving health; clearly, the current system of treating the ill has not been working, as thousands of people go bankrupt from medical bills every year. What the U.S. Preventative Medicine tries to do is stop the disease before it comes, saving thousands of dollars and more importantly, thousands of lives. With the slogan “more good years” the Prevention Plan is an online health improvement program that many employers have been purchasing for their employees. The Prevention Plan enables individuals to determine their top health risks and receive a customized plan and coaching from nurses to lower those risks and become healthier. It allows people to take control of their own health and provides some great incentives to get healthier. Check out the basics of the Prevention Plan: (You can also check out more great videos by clicking here.) 

Not only does the Prevention Plan provide priceless benefits to members, it can also help to boost a company’s social image, which is what public relations is all about. Kathy mentioned that one of their target businesses has been Wal-Mart and I think this is a fantastic idea. Wal-Mart always is criticized for treating employees bad and if they purchase the plan and offer it to their employees, they will not only be helping their employees, but they will also improve their social image. A boost in social image would lead to a boost in customers, which essentially means more profits for Wal-Mart.  Therefore, the Prevention Plan has great benefits for not only employers, but also employees. Some companies have already taken on the plan to boost their image, such as Sam’s Club. Adding this plan as an option in their online store has attracted tons of media coverage. Check out the video:

To conclude, I am excited about this new approach to healthcare and think that it could really make some major changes. In addition, from a PR standpoint, it is a great way to boost any companies image. The success in the campaign launched by U.S. Preventive Medicine is a good example of how by working for public relations in the healthcare industry you cannot only work to change behavior, you can also work to directly save lives.

A Dose of Planning

26 Feb

One important part of health communication is advocacy. Advocacy in public health involves informing the public, swaying public opinion and influencing policy makers. But before you start advocating, you need to develop a plan. You need to know what exactly you are trying to get across to develop an effective message. Equally important, you need to know what your overall goal is. Are you trying to encourage teenagers to quit smoking? Are you trying to motivate young adults to get tested for HIV? Identifying your desired outcome is the first step to planning your health message.

After you have established your goal, there are some questions that you can ask yourself while developing your strategy. These come from the American Public Health Association’s Media Advocacy Manual. They can be used to craft successful health messages.

  1. What is the problem that you are highlighting? This could be anything from underage drinking to diabetes. However,  you need to narrow it down to a specific population. This way, it is more feasible to come up with a solution.
  2. Is there a solution? If so, what is it? Again, try to narrow this down to a specific population. For example, if you are trying to target teen pregnancy, you could advocate for parents to talk to their teenagers about how to engage in safe sex and prevent pregnancy.
  3. Who can make the solution possible? Whose support do you need to gain to make a solution happen?  In the example of teen pregnancy, your target audience would be parents who have children, specifically young teenagers. You would need to focus on gaining their cooperation and support.
  4. What do you need to do or say to get the attention of those who make the solution happen? This all depends on your target audience and how you can best reach them. If you want to use the media, figure out how you want them to get your message out there. You could also use advertising, marketing or more personal channels of communication.

One of the campaigns that has been used to prevent teen pregnancy

After considering all of these things, you are ready to craft your message. Make your message powerful, persuasive and compelling. Also, make sure your message targets your intended audience; if you are targeting parents, you will use different language then if you are trying to target lawmakers.

Using all of these tips in planning your advocacy efforts will help you create a more effective health message. Just remember that planning leads to action, and action can lead to success.

A Dose of Digital Lies

25 Feb

Over the past few days, I have been attending many of the activities that are part of All Sizes Fit Week. This campaign at the University of Oregon is put on to help increase positive body image and rasie eating order awareness. One thing emphasized at the events was how the media projects false images of women to define a narrow and unachievable standard of what is defined as “beautiful.”

When advertisers first began to project images of women in the media, people would take them at face value. They would look at the seemingly perfect woman they saw in advertisements and think this was what the average women looked like. People really began to believe that these seemingly impossible standards were what they needed to measure up to.

Photoshop wonders on Katy Perry

However, people soon began questioning these ads. They realized, “Hey, I don’t look like that; my friends don’t look like that. No one I ever see looks like that…where are all these perfect women?”  Soon, the public looked hard enough to discover the truth about these ads, and this led to some shocking revelations. It was found that looking like the women in these ads really was unattainable, because the women in the ads were not real. Many ad campaigns were revealed to be using three, four, or five women to create a single woman in an ad; They would use one woman’s eyes and another’s lips to create this virtually “perfect” woman. Not only this, but the truths of retouching photographs were exposed. I’m sure you remember the infamous Dove campaign, which revealed the countless steps of retouching that went into a single ad. The public now knows that not only were these images false, but they were also  setting impossible standards to meet.

The Dove “Evolution” Campaign:

Needless to say, this sparked quite some anger among the public. Exposing the false images and lies had many negative effects on advertisers and the companies they represented. They were subject to anger, ridicule and criticism. The public no longer trusted nor respected them or their products. Whenever people now see woman in an ad or in the media, they immediately question the reality and credibility.  They immediately wonder, “Is this a real woman or some digital creation?”

As health communicators, we can use the mistakes of advertisers and learn from them. We now know to never underestimate our audience. They have more intuition and perception then you think. If your message is false and lacks authenticity, your audience will find out. The longer you go on projecting lies, the harder your communication efforts will fall when the truth is revealed. The harder you fall, the harder it will be to climb back up again and gain that trust.

Another lesson to take away from this is to never just follow the majority. As health communicators, we shouldn’t just go along with false messages, even if they are the predominant ones, because when the truth is revealed (and believe me, eventually it will be) your communication efforts will be put in the box with all the other untruthful ones. Think about how these days, you question every advertisement you see, no matter what the brand or company, wondering if it is a real women or just a figment of digital imagination; advertisers and companies that used false images have put into that untrustworthy box.

On the contrary, however, if you always projected reality, even if it went against the grain, people will see the validity in your message. They will see your commitment to always telling the truth, no matter what society was telling you. Not only does this encourage trust in you as a health communicator, it also shows that you care about your audience. These things are exactly what you want as a health communicator in order to be successful in influencing opinion and behavior.

An Overdose of Policy – Hospitals Ban Birthing Videos

15 Feb

The New York Times recently featured an article on a hospital in Maryland, Meritus Medical Center, which is banning all pictures and videos during child-birth. Some other hospitals have followed suit and adopted similar policies. Needless to say, this has brought about some controversy.

While the hospital claims that “it is about the health and safety of the baby and mother and protecting the privacy of the medical staff,” banning the use of cameras and videos opens up the issue of transparency.

Transparency in an organization implies openness, communication and accountability. The birth of a child is often the most important day of many patients’ lives; it is something they want to be able to remember and relive through videos and photos. When hospitals take away this right, it raises questions and concerns among the public. The public  may wonder if the hospital is trying to hide something from them; this could cause them to doubt the hospital’s openness and transparency.

Taking away the right to film child births could also cause patients to question whether the hospital is trying to protect itself from evidence, primarily that which could be used in lawsuits. This brings doubts about the hospital’s accountability to its patients. In addition, these concerns may cause patients to wonder if the hospital is more concerned with its own well-being and reputation than with its patients. Any of these doubts about the hospital’s intentions could cause it to lose credibility in the community.

It will be interesting to see how the ban affects certain hospitals. It could be that hospitals without the ban attract more expectant mothers. From a public relations standpoint, I am guessing that hospitals that allow cameras and videos will experience greater growth and support from the community because they appear to be more transparent. These hospitals are the ones that are tuned in to what the public wants and are doing public relations right.

A Dose of Twitter and Grey’s Anatomy

4 Feb

Recently, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, Grey’s Anatomy, when a twist of public relations snuck itself in. First of all, for those who don’t watch Grey’s, it is a show about a group of surgical doctors, residents and interns that work at Seattle Grey’s hospital. In this particular episode, there is a scene where the chief resident is performing a surgery in the operating room. He looks up at his interns (who are watching the surgery) and sees a few are on their cell phones. He immediately yells at them that there is no texting allowed in the operating room. After a second, one hesitant intern responds “sir, we aren’t texting….Dr. Bailey [another doctor in the hospital] is performing a surgery and we are following her on Twitter.”

Twitter! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I have yet to hear a mention of any social media on Grey’s, so it spoke volumes that  Twitter was being referenced. This use of Twitter by the doctors on Grey’s got me thinking about health communication, and I realized they are onto something. While I fully support hospitals using Twitter to help make relationships with the public, the idea of tweeting about patients at the hospital, and not the hospital itself, is a fantastic idea. By posting about patients, it does a few things that can be beneficial to your hospital and its reputation.

First, tweeting about patients puts a human face on your organization. Instead of people reading tweets about your hospital, they are following actual people. This makes followers care more because it creates more of an emotional connection with your tweets. People won’t likely have an emotional connection with “the biggest hospital rooms available” or “the biggest supply of antibiotics”; they will, however, with 6-year-old Lindsey who has to get a liver transplant or 13-year-old Alex with leukemia.

Secondly, tweeting about the patients creates a narrative. By posting updates throughout and after each surgery, it makes a story about the patient that people will want to follow. They will be more inclined to stay tuned if there is more to come, and each tweet will leave them wanting more.

Lastly, tweeting about patients instead of the hospital sends a message. It says,“we care about our patients more than we care about how our hospital looks.” It says that the patients come first. Instead of directly boasting about your hospital, it makes a bold statement about where your hospital’s priorities are. This could contribute to bringing more people to support your hospital, and this is ultimately the goal of using social media.

Upon some further investigation of this tweeting by Dr. Bailey, I found, for all you fellow Grey’s enthusiasts out there, that you can actually follow Dr. Bailey on Twitter through her account, @MirandaBaileyMD. So thank you, Grey’s Anatomy, for tweeting something different. Happy tweeting!

This is a scene from the show. It is not the direct one I referenced above, but it is another one where the chief tries to learn the ropes on Twitter.

**Update** I wanted to address some concerns that recently came up in regard to HIPAA privacy rules. This rule applies to all forms of individuals’ protected health information, whether it is electronic, written, or oral. If hospitals were to tweet about their patients, they would need to first get written consent from the patients undergoing the operation.

A Prescription for Action

2 Feb

In health communication, the first step is to get people to start listening. Once you have done this, congratulations, you’ve got an audience. But now that you’ve got them what do you say? How do you create health messages that will actually cause change? It is often found that people may listen to health promoting messages, but rarely do they actually change their behavior, and this is why so many health communicators fall short.

                What is getting in the way of people taking the step from information to action? Joye C. Gordon has identified four factors that are likely to influence health behavior adoptions in her Beyond Knowledge Guidelines. By identifying these factors, it will allow health communicators to develop more effective messages that will inspire behavior change.

1. Perception of self: Also known as self-efficacy, this is the extent to which people believe that they can successfully execute the behavior required to produce outcomes. Generally, higher evaluation of one’s own efficacy to perform an action correlates with increased likelihood of taking on that action. 

2. Perception of risk: This is the extent to which people perceive that they are at risk. Usually, when risk perceptions are low, people are unmotivated to change their behavior, resulting in rejection of your health message. Risk perception also correlates with perception of self. A  high level of perceived risk in combination with low perceptions of self can lead to a person rejecting the recommended behavior. Finding the right balance in the message is important. Ultimately, risk perceptions and feelings of concern are needed to motivate change, but you need to keep in mind your audience’s feelings about themselves.

3. Environmental conditions: This includes both physical and social conditions. Clearly, the physical environment a person is in affects his or her availability of health services, the costs they have, and transportation needs. The social environment comes into play in that the methods of interpersonal communication an audiences uses are a crucial link in achieving compliance. Therefore, messages should acknowledge social and physical restraints and provide motivations and ideas for overcoming them.

4. Perception of costs and benefits: This refers to how an individual assesses the advantages versus disadvantages of a recommended course of action. In short, if one expect the benefits to exceed the costs, they are more likely to change their behavior, and vice versa. Bottom line, health promotion messages should heighten perceived benefits of the recommendation while discounting the costs of adoption.

So there they are; the four most common factors that influence the adoption of healthful behavioral change. Using these in your health communication can lead to you effectively promoting and prompting behavior changes, so that once people listen, you can give them a reason to act.

An Overdose of Communication

31 Jan

The statistics of American’s health in 2010 are out, and they don’t look good. More than 25 million children and adults in the United States—8.3 percent of the population—have diabetes; nearly 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese, and  35.7 million adults have cholesterol levels over 240 mg. All of these numbers have increased from 2009.

 So what is going on? With the numerous outlets of health communication these days, it is surprising that American’s aren’t getting the message. It seems to me that the problem that we have with health communication isn’t that the messages aren’t out there; there are more than enough to keep one occupied for days.  It is that there are too many —  and it is causing people to turn away.

When there is too much noise, people stop listening all together. This seems to be what has happened with Americans and health. What health communicators need to do is find a way to cut through all the noise. They need to find a way to get audiences to listen to them again, because if people aren’t listening, even the best health messages will have no impact.

So how can you cut through the boggle of health ideas out there? The most important thing to do is get to know your audience and research how they communicate with one another. Find out who they are already listening to and use these as your outlets. Your health communication strategies need to be designed specifically to your target audience or they won’t be effective. Know that people won’t likely go looking for you – the mess of health messages has turned them away from trying, so you need to go looking for them.

Once you have found the outlet, make sure to place your message front and center. Make sure that it can’t be missed or ignored. The best way to do this is to keep it simple, short and fun. If it is too confusing, people won’t listen because they won’t understand. If it is too long, you will loose your audiences attention. If it is fun, people will be more inclined to actually listen and take action.

A great example of this is the “piano stairs,” which were developed in Stockholm, Sweden, to encourage more people to take the stairs instead of the escalator. This follows the Fun Theory, which holds that making something “fun” inspires people to do it. The outcome was that 66 percent more people began taking the stairs, showing how making things fun really does have an impact.

Here are the “Piano Stairs” in action:

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