Industry Professionals Discuss Trends and Innovations in Health and Risk Communication

The Day of Innovation hosted by MSU’s Health and Risk Communication Program Features Panel of Experts 

As part of the HRC Day of Innovation, health industry experts gathered to discuss new challenges in the realm of Health and Risk Communication, on Sept. 27, in WKAR Studio A.

The Innovations and Insights Panel, moderated by Maria Lapinski, Ph.D., Director of the Health and Risk Communication Center, included three industry professionals: Alexander Plum, M.A, Director of Innovation for the Henry Ford Health System; Anna Melville, M.A, Director of Population Health for Sparrow Health System; and Monique Turner, Ph.D., Chair of Communication at ComArtSci.

Exploring Innovations

Each of these individuals discussed the innovative methods and practices on the rise or already in practice in terms of health communication, giving specific examples of initiatives that were taking place in their organizations. 

Plum said one goal is to more effectively treat  those in marginalized groups who normally would not seek their medical attention from the ER. Through partnerships with community organizations, his team is exploring how they can deliver basic healthcare to those who feel unsupported by traditional health systems. This idea of peer support outside hospital walls was inspired by programs outside of the U.S.

“The frontline of healthcare right now—the challenges and solutions that exist— are continually going to be found, the further we press our work to be focusing on our patients and our communities that are out on the margins,” said Plum. “And when we’re willing to look beyond our own limited insights and training and look outside the United States, it’s there where we’re going to start pushing the boundaries of healthcare and delivery and seeing our biggest wins.” 

Turner addressed the emotional appeals that have been used in advertisements to communicate health messages, citing research into major ad campaigns. She provided examples of how emotional appeals can be used effectively in health and risk communications, and she demonstrated how some emotional appeals might strike the wrong tone. Examples she cited included a controversial childhood obesity ad and an HPV vaccination campaign.

“If emotion, or a moral emotion like guilt, makes people want to do good, can this be leveraged to inspire people to help others?” said Turner. 

Turner said she was a firm believer in the power of communication, but that it must be used wisely in order to convey the right message and reach the audience in an ethical way. She pointed out that in advertising, there is a difference between guilt and shame--shame meaning blame and stigma placed on the individual. The more controversial ads cited in her talk were proven to be less effective due to their usage of shame instead of guilt. 

“The tiniest difference in language you use can change guilt to shame,” said Turner.

Another finding she discussed related to audience awareness in this health messaging. If the audience knew who was behind the campaign or what appeals they were trying to use from the start, the less effective the ad proved to be.

The Future of Health and Risk Communication

The three panelists were also asked about any future innovations they felt might impact the world of health and risk communication. 

Turner noticed an increase in the usage of technology to spread health messages through social media and text messaging. She conducted a diabetes prevention program and found that those in the group using these technologies and social media to receive health messaging were more successful in health intervention programs than others.

Plum said his team is looking to make innovations in healthcare practices that are less technology focused and deal more with human interaction.

“We’re trying to take existing workforce pieces and provide a little bit of training to those individuals to see how they can do work that makes a big impact, but doesn’t take them big time,” said Plum.

One example of such an innovation is a “knock and check” policy taken on by the mail carrier service. This would involve mail carriers knocking on the doors of older individuals and engaging in a short conversation with them to check on their well-being.  Another example is the concept of “microclinics,” where peer groups are trained to use positive behavior in order to collaboratively increase healthy habits. 

Melville said healthcare organizations are also trying to focus on how they can be more consumer-focused with their healthcare practices. 

“How do we provide care outside of the four walls of our hospital?” said Melville.

She said her team is using a range of innovations to achieve this goal, whether it means using a mobile health clinic to reach more patients,  placing more emphasis on in-home visits, or understanding patients beyond their basic medical information. 

The Insights and Innovations Panel covered a wide range of topics, with panelists presenting portions of their research or explaining new programs being implemented at the healthcare organizations where they work. They covered a wide range of innovations, from simple changes in the way healthcare is provided to patients to significant changes to the future of healthcare. Each panelist expressed the importance of effective health communication to support emerging trends. 

By John Castro

Learn more about the Health and Risk Communication Center