Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Keep it simple

The H1N1 flu outbreak keeps bringing us public health lessons, especially when it comes to the best ways to get important information to the people who need it most.

Folks with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine are constantly working to prepare for the next emerging health threat. What came out of recent evaluations of public information efforts during the H1N1 pandemic underscored the need to keep messages simple and easy to understand, no matter what the audience.

“During this event, we were able to incorporate lessons learned as we went,” said Amanda McWhorter, a CDC health communications specialist and presenter during the Tuesday afternoon Annual Meeting session “2009 Pandemic influenza (H1N1) Communication Activities at CDC: Focusing on Specific Audiences and Settings.”

Some of those lessons learned:

— Establish partnerships and channels (think websites and e-cards, but also handouts and posters)
— Coordinate messages to ensure consistency
— Adapt quickly
— Present messages in plain language

And those lessons hold true whether the audience is international travelers, the K-12 school system, child care providers, colleges and universities, or businesses.

When needed, public health communicators can step up their game to better respond to concerns in real time, said session moderator Gabrielle Benenson, also with CDC.

“There’s sort of this 'in an emergency’ thing that happens and then a ‘day-to-day’ thing that happens,” Benenson said.

A recently produced “How to Clean and Disinfect Schools to Help Slow the Spread of Flu” handout breaks it down by defining the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing and even listing bulleted, step-by-step instructions. That’s an example, session presenter and CDC staffer Tiffani Phelps said, of how to present easily understandable and helpful health information.

How will you know what information people need? We keep hearing it, but it never goes out of style: Build relationships and partnerships, and get out there and ask.

Check out CDC's free flu resources here.

— D.C.

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