According to a panel of federal, educational and private sector health workers who spoke at a session at APHA’s 135th Annual Meeting this Monday, the answer is a resounding “yes!”
More and more health workers, educators and agencies are using new electronic media to reach out and connect with the public, with encouraging results. Among those setting the example for the rest of us in public health is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, CDC successfully used blogs, podcasts, webinars, photo-sharing sites and other media to publicize seasonal flu vaccinations, drawing 12,000 people to its seasonal flu Web site in just one week.
CDC planners even went so far as to set up a flu clinic on Whyville, an online virtual reality world for children, to give virtual flu shots and answer kids' questions, reported presenter Erin Edgerton of CDC. More than 134,000 Whyville visits were made to the “clinic,” and almost 20,000 kids received virtual shots.
Online virtual worlds such as Whyville and Second Life present a new opportunity to improve health education of the public, said presenter Lucy Annang, of the University of South Carolina. For example, CDC has a virtual public health office in Second Life where real staff answer users’ health questions. Other organizations that have a presence in Second Life include the American Cancer Society and Brigadoon, which addresses Asperger’s syndrome.
At the college level, public health students at the University of Michigan are tackling issues such as depression and eating disorders via a new health podcast series. Students have responded well to the podcasts, said presenter Sara Abelson, and new topics are being considered for future podcasts.
“Health educators have an opportunity to lead the field with creative use of podcasting technology,” Abelson said.
While such new media methods may not reach everyone — particularly older Americans and those who don’t have access to computers — they allow health workers the potential to reach more people and improve their health and lives, presenters underscored.
“We need to adapt to an evolving world,” Annang said.