Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reach out and touch someone

If you’re trying to expand your online and social media outreach to improve public health, I have a nice little inside scoop for you.

The folks at the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion are coming out with a “Health Literacy Online” guide to developing user-friendly Web sites and other online tools in January. Want to be on the distribution list? Send an e-mail to Health Literacy Fellow Sean Arayasirikul at sean.arayasirikul@hhs.gov (and, yes, he said it was OK for me to post his e-mail address on our blog).

He and his colleagues have done a lot of study into how to reach people with low health literacy. A redesigned www.healthfinder.gov site, which took five years from conception to launch, shows some fruits of that labor. Pages are less text-heavy and give visitors easy-to-follow small steps to improve their health. We can all get behind that.

“We all kind of want to be snazzy when we present information, but a linear, simple approach works best,” Arayasirikul said at a Tuesday afternoon session on health literacy in the digital age.

While only 37 percent of U.S. adults with less than a high school education use the Internet, more than 94 percent of adolescents and young adults go online regularly. That means any public health education message and other outreach had better have an online presence in the near future because that’s the way to reach people, whether it’s via a computer, smartphone or other device.

“Information, because it can be accessed anywhere, I think, can be leveraged more,” said Ana Tellez, who works with Arayasirikul at the ODPHP.

Session attendees brainstormed on the challenges of using social media and other online tools to expand public health outreach, and one common gripe was the fact that many workplaces aren’t exactly hip to the happenin’. Some bosses ban Facebook use in the office, and the review process for online postings can bog down efforts to get credible information out there quickly.

Be persistent, Tellez said, and take it one bite at a time.

“Don’t ask for a whole cake,” she said about expanding social networking and other online efforts. “Ask for a little sliver.”

— D.C.


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to imagine the 6% of adolescents and young adults who don't go online regularly...who are these people?! Anyway, more user-friendly, understandable health-related sites can only be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I agree that social networking sites are great venues for spreading information, but they are also a huge drain on productivity, so I completely agree with workplaces banning sites like Facebook from work computers. Most people who use social networking sites have access to a computer somewhere other than work, so save the workplace for work and visit social sites during your personal time.

Anonymous said...

It is super important for everyone to take ownership of their own health, which makes finding a way to help young people down that road very valuable. We have become an email and search engine-based society, so using social networking sites to plug healthy lifestyles is the perfect platform for reaching the people who need the information most!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that expanding the message through social networking ought to be a top priority, no matter how sexy it seems these days. More important would be getting the message to more mainstream sites, where the storyline cane be spelled out in more than 140 characters.