We Talked About Healthcare Misinfo With Communications Professionals. Here's What We Learned.

January 6, 2024

Three takeaways from National Forum on Best Practices to Address Health Misinformation

Two months ago ARTT Principal Investigator Connie Moon Sehat, researcher Elizabeth Harris, and I joined medical professionals, public health officials, and practitioners at the National Forum on Best Practices to Address Health Misinformation at Duke University in North Carolina. The forum was presented by The Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Duke School of Medicine, RTI International, and the Coalition for Trust in Health and Science.

Over two days, participants discussed how to address topics such as common rumors that are affecting people’s health, the meaning of trust both online and in person, and what the next steps look like to equip public health communicators with the resources they need.

Here are three takeaways from the sessions that may help public health communicators build trust in their communities:

1) Developing and refining public health messaging will often take multiple rounds of feedback

Public health communicators and practitioners need to understand how to tailor messages to specific communities to better foster trust. Developing and refining this messaging can take multiple rounds of feedback from community members because there are layers of trust to be understood.

For example, community members may trust their primary care provider rather than the state health department. Understanding how trust is often based on proximity and established relationships, and then gathering regular feedback from community members will help public health communicators have an intentional approach to what’s working and what isn’t.

2) It’s key to understand how to measure success and what it means to ‘move the needle.’

Forum attendees noted that trust is cultivated through relationships, rather than engineering a change in behavior. Because of this, it’s important that public health communicators reframe what success looks like for conversations regarding complicated health information.

In order to define and measure success, public health communicators need to measure and understand both the things that come before a change in behavior, and the outcomes that come after.

3) Following best practices for public health communication really does improve outcomes

One challenge observed by attendees was that health communicators can sometimes be unaware there are best practices or established guidelines when it comes to communicating health information.

For example, one such best practice for health communicators shared by attendees during the forum is to understand or foresee potential communications gaps by checking in with and understanding the culture of their community, such as community beliefs about healthcare. Once public health communicators develop this understanding, they are better able to craft and test messages that resonate with their community's concerns.

Forum attendees also discussed emerging best practices around incorporating generative AI in health communications. Besides considering how these new technologies might potentially be incorporated into workflows in coming years, forum attendees also discussed the need for potential best practices around the ethical use of generative AI in public health communications.

With this in mind, the ARTT Guide will be working with the National Public Health Information Coalition to create a working group focused on the ethical use of AI in public health communications.

Stay tuned as the ARTT team launches this group!

Keep up to date about building trust in health communications

If you’d like to continue learning more about building trust in health communications, here are some links to resources produced by other attendees at the National Forum on Best Practices to Address Health Misinformation:

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