For those with an interest in health and new media, a new book has just landed: Health Communication in the New Media Landscape, by two academics from the University of Missouri-Columbia (one from the health sciences side of things and the other from the journalism school).
It takes a broad look at how new media is changing the world of health – including the advent of online treatments and through improving patients’ access to treatment and communication with their health care providers. It is very much based in the US context but many of the observations are of wider relevance.
• Seven reasons why new media trumps old media:
1. Immediacy: ability to access information on demand
2. Mobility: ability not only to transport the product/service but to get updated content wherever one is
3. Rich media – video and audio delivered online
4. Participation: the ability to create and publish (personal authorship)
5. Search: the ability to quickly and easily find accurate information on topics of interest
6. Customisation: the ability to tailor the types and frequency of messages to personal interests
7. Time shifting: the ability to download digital content and replay it at the consumer’s convenience
• New media is a tonic for health coverage
Old media tends to distort public perceptions of health issues by covering preliminary or controversial research findings rather than giving weight to reliable evidence. In one content analysis of news stories, there was an inverse relationship between the number of stories on a particular topic and the importance of information about that topic for healthy living. New media sites can allow newspapers to go beyond the headlines and to link readers to the information and resources they need for healthy living. Some online sites are themselves becoming trusted health portals with embedded links from the stories that take the reader back to national public health recommendations.
• The internet and health information
A 2003 national survey asked US respondents to imagine they had a strong need for information about cancer and where they would go first to get it:
49 per cent said they would go to their health care providers
33 per cent said they would go to the internet.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of American internet users go online for health information. On one day in 2006, 8 million Americans searched for health information – which makes this activity as popular as paying bills, reading blogs and looking up a phone number or an address.
• A project which may be of interest to those concerned about media coverage of Aboriginal health issues
Journalism students and public health academics are working together to provide culturally-relevant stories about cancer for African Americans. Ozioma, which means “good news” or “gospel” in the Nigerian ethnic Igbo language, is the name of the project, funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Centers for Excellence in Cancer Communication Research. The project provides Black newspapers with community-level data and culturally relevant cancer news stories at a cost well below that of an advertising campaign. The project is a collaboration between researchers at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health and the Missouri School of Journalism.
• Health professionals not as switched on as their patients would like
One national survey found up to 77 per cent of adults wanted at least one type of electronic commuication with their doctor including appointment reminders, communication of test results by email etc. 62 pc of survey respondents said their choice of doctor would be influenced by whether or not they communicated by email. But surveys have shown doctors are reluctant to use email; one survey of Florida physicians found that only 17 per cent emailed patients from the office, and only 3 per cent of total sample did this regularly. The authors noted a huge discrepancy between patients’ desires to communicate electronically and doctors’ readiness to do so. “Communication through new media is rapidly becoming the norm rather than the exception, and physicians and the health care industry need to adapt to these changes.”
Meanwhile, the new media revolution aside, so much about the present remains firmly rooted in centuries past. The internet may have given us once unimaginable access to global health information formerly the preserve of health professionals. But if you asked me for an accurate account of my own medical history, the best I could offer is that it is scattered somewhere between dozens of different offices in dozens of different places, no doubt lost in old filing cabinets.