Media Communication during Public Health Emergencies

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What some people might think of as online entertainment or a fun way to stay in touch with friends has turned into a communications boon for the public health community, particularly in times of crisis.

Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook are allowing public health officials to reach out fast and directly to the public on everything from salmonella-related food recalls to disease outbreaks and weather emergencies.

Federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have recognized the power of social media, using the broad reach of the online community to help distribute important health information and learn what issues are popping up across the country at any given time.

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The American Red Cross’ “Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies” survey of 1,058 adults indicates that 18 percent would turn to digital social media if calls to 911 were unsuccessful.

Sixty-nine percent of the adults surveyed said emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their Web sites and social media networks so they can respond promptly to requests for help posted there; 74 percent said they would expect help to arrive within an hour.

Flu is one area in which social media platforms have most proven their value, As an infectious Disease physician , I have monitored closely the role of public health in such situation.

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invests in a national awareness campaign to educate the general population about the importance of influenza vaccination.Throughout the fall and winter months, CDC promotes this campaign nationally through a mix of communication channels and in collaboration with national and grassroots partners who organize flu promotion activities and events.

One way in which partners can help support this effort is by working with their local media to help inform the public about the serious complications the flu can cause, and the importance of vaccination

A 2010 study  in published the journal PLOS One found that by analyzing topic content on social networks, flu outbreaks can be predicted earlier than by traditional tracking methods. In another study published  a year later — also in the journal PLOS One — researchers examined Twitter to track public reports of H1N1 or swine flu, and to track and measure actual disease activity. It found that Twitter content predicted flu outbreaks one to two weeks ahead of the CDC’s surveillance average.

In addition to the use of media for emergency situations , each year,  CDC invests in a national awareness campaign to educate the general population about the importance of influenza vaccination. Throughout the fall and winter months, CDC promotes this campaign nationally through a mix of communication channels and in collaboration with national and grassroots partners who organize flu promotion activities mostly online and through the media . This is a huge preventive step that will have a great  positive outcome and I hope it will become a great model for all other public health organizations .

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Media Communication during Public Health Emergencies

  1. Such a great post Arash ,
    Use of different sites such as Facebook and Twitter has become so significant that public health departments should strongly consider utilizing them to spread information during emergencies.

  2. Arash – this is a really interesting area! I think it’s going to evolve so much in the next few years, but I appreciate your round-up of what has been done recently

    • Thanks Kristina,
      I think strategic media work is an integral part of modern public health practice that will have a great impact on all areas of practice.

  3. I think another great message in this post is that during emergencies, it’s easier to use systems that are already in place. Emergency communications will be able to be disseminated farther because they utilize the systems that are already ubiquitous. You’re far more likely to read emergency information on the twitter account you already use every day.

  4. This was a really excellent post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and learned quite a bit.

    Some things you did really well:
    – You had a great opening that grabbed the reader’s attention.
    – The studies and examples you cited were fascinating and clearly underscored the viability of social media for public health awareness campaigns and disease surveillance
    – The specific data you provided was really compelling–I was amazed that Twitter was able to track the spread of outbreaks faster than the CDC!
    – Good use of graphics

    Some things you could improve next time around:
    – I liked that you mentioned that you are an Infectious Disease physician. This provided valuable information regarding your credibility and unique perspective. I would have liked to have heard more of your opinions and personal experiences on the subject given your profession. This would give the post more of a personal voice.
    – It would have been useful to link to all original studies you cited (as you did in the first one), for readers to have a quick reference to your sources. It also would have been useful to link to the stories you mentioned in the beginning about salmonella and food recalls
    – This is very minor but make sure when you do link to an outside website to click the box that says ‘open in new window.’ When I clicked the link it redirected me away from your blog
    – You had so many interesting points, but they got a little lost in the organization. Perhaps consider using one of the suggested formats for blogs (a ‘Top 5 List’ seems like it would work well here!)
    – It would have been interesting to include a poll in the blog, to survey readers about the specific uses of social media in public health you mentioned.
    – Perhaps end with a funny or memorable summarizing line

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