Cue the Communicators: A Call to Action

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With the extent of global issues that we face today, including the ongoing pandemic, it is easy to feel hopeless. Fortunately, we know that by influencing human behavior, we can begin to tackle some of our toughest public health challenges. While this is no easy feat, effective communication is essential to saving lives and should be prioritized accordingly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated the dangers of failing to effectively communicate public health information. In many instances, inadequate risk communication has led to confusion and mistrust, and ultimately noncompliance with protective public health measures. From supporting adherence to mitigation measures (e.g., social distancing, self-quarantine, self-isolation) to reducing vaccine hesitancy, public health communicators are a critical part of controlling the spread of this virus.

The importance of public health communication does not apply to only COVID-19, but to all health threats. Epidemiologists, laboratorians, and clinicians are all crucial pieces of the public health puzzle, but we cannot forget about communicators. Many public health professionals, or members of the “general public,” are inclined to undervalue the significance of public health communication in meeting our collective goals. For example, at state, large metropolitan, and smaller local health departments across the U.S., one or two people may have the responsibility of effectively communicating all public health threats to all populations. Additionally, a trained public health communicator may not exist in some cases, and risk communication is treated as an additional task assigned to an employee lacking specific training or experience.

The current workload thrust upon public health communicators, or other staff required to take on these roles, is an unsustainable model. By not prioritizing public health communication or hiring qualified professionals, public health outcomes can be gravely impacted and current staff can burn out. To affect behavioral change through risk communication, the necessary resources and personnel must be in place. A typical day for a given public health communicator could include creating risk communication messages, piloting messages to ensure their suitability and uptake with intended audiences, fielding media inquiries, and more. Now imagine a single person doing that, along with other key activities, for not only COVID-19 but simultaneously for food and waterborne diseases, chronic diseases, and other public health crises such as natural disasters.

Karna recognizes the valuable contributions of health communicators — whether they be graphic designers, social media specialists, writers/editors, public information officers, etc. — and encourages all public health organizations to consider emphasizing the role of health communication in their initiatives for the greater good.

Are you interested in technical assistance for public health communication projects or building a cadre of communicators for your organization? Karna’s experts can help. Contact Us.

– Adrienne Lefevre, MPH, CHES; Senior Health Communications Specialist

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