Friday Finds: For Better and for Worse in Health Communications

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It’s been a busy week. I haven’t been on Twitter much, because sometimes you just have to let it go. When I did hop onto Feedly here and there, I was glad to see these pieces on health communications.

What pulls all of these pieces together for me is their health literacy element. Simply defined, health literacy is the ability to understand health information so you can make informed choices. Life isn’t that simple though- health information might not always be health information; it could be advertising in disguise. Readers need to be aware what kind of information they’re reading. Is it advertising or education, or both?


Be Thoughtful About Language

I loved this piece: It’s time for journalists to stop using the word ‘controversial’ to describe medical science. Mary Chris Jaklevic writes, “The word “controversial” should be used sparingly in health news, and always with context. And it should not be applied to settled science.”

Jaklevic notes vaccine safety, and specifically, HPV vaccine safety. There has been too much written to fan the flames of “controversy on these two subjects when science has shown they are safe and public health benefits with their use.


Health Marketing Makes a Difference

In a piece for the Banfield Agency, Emilie Gagnon talks about power marketing in health related social media. She uses three examples of campaigns for health education and empowerment: BellLetsTalk (let’s talk about mental health and stigma); Movember (grow a moustache to raise money and awareness about men’s cancers); and World Stroke Day (Gagnon highlights awareness, access and action).

Health campaigns like Movember can go for gentle fun and awareness, engaging the reader on different levels. Another fun campaign with a serious message is the newly launched BC Centre for Disease Control’s Syphistory, a sexual health campaign aimed at men who have sex with men. Its tagline reads “Van Gogh may be history. But syphilis is not. Test now. Test often.” Go see the men in hats; stay for the great info.


Relationships, Not Apps!

If you’ve ever seen the old movie Terms of Endearment, you’ll remember the scene when the mom climbs into her baby’s crib to see if her daughter is breathing. The baby wails at being woken and the mother leaves the room satisfied. No need to climb into cribs these days; there are apps to track a baby’s every burp and sigh.

What parents need to know about baby monitoring apps argues against the use of these apps, suggesting that not only do they undermine actual relationship building, they can push parents to unwarranted alarm and/or complacency. Parents may rely on the apps too much and not learn to observe what is normal for their kids. They aren’t approved medical devices either, so aren’t subjected to testing or regulation.


If you’re interested in learning and talking more about a range of articles, campaigns, apps and communities for healthcare and social media, follow #HCSM, #HCSMCA or #HCSMEU on Twitter. They’re all dedicated to communications about health in three areas: the US (the original HCSM), Canada, and Europe. I’ve found lots of interesting things and met many passionate health communicators in these communities; they’re a great global bunch.



Image: Definitely advertising. Washington State Library, Flickr Creative Commons

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