As the world battles a pandemic of unprecedented scale, governments and healthcare systems have launched multi-dimensional efforts to contain the outbreak and ensure high risk preparedness. From announcing nationwide lockdowns to procuring adequate protective gear for healthcare workers to putting in place effective contact tracing mechanisms, authorities are working overtime to contain the disease spread. However, the role of effective healthcare communication is another critical pillar of our collective fight against COVID 19 which must not be taken lightly. This communication needs to be focussed at multiple levels – between the government and healthcare consultancies, between research bodies and doctors, between doctors and people as well as between administrations and communities. Even as 24/7 news outlets blare out constant updates about the coronavirus outbreak and its spread, there continues to be paucity of information that can make a real difference in the lives of people vis a vis disease prevention. Similarly, a series of misperceptions and miscommunications have affected our fights against the disease.
Effective healthcare communication is the need of the hour. Timely and targeted flow of information is critical to keep doctors right down to primary levels informed about latest treatment protocols, it is crucial to enable people make informed decisions and prevent panic and discrimination against patients.
Models of effective healthcare communication must include:
Raising Awareness about Prevention and Treatment
The COVID 19 crisis has showed how new information about the disease keeps cropping up every day as researchers and healthcare practitioners get a better hand into how the disease works. The mode of spread of disease, the approach to treatment for different patients, how to manage the disease in moderately ill patients – understanding of all these aspects has continued to evolve with time. It is important therefore to establish effective channels that can obtain, grasp and quickly dissipate all new learnings about the disease to relevant authorities and healthcare departments. This information must then be crafted intelligently for the consumption of common people to raise awareness about prevention and containment. In context of COVID 19 in particular, while most people have understood the need to wash hands and maintain distance from other people, there is still lack of clarity about a number of other things. For instance, how to handle fomites – the objects that can be virus carriers – to effectively sanitise them before they are used is a question that is still not understood well.
Health consultancies need to craft informative and simple information campaigns to educate people about the right way of doing their daily activities in the time of coronavirus. How long can the virus survive on surfaces, whether elevators should be avoided, whether greean leafy vegetables are safe to consume, whether meat and poultry products are safe? These are just some questions that abound the minds of common people. It is important to create mechanisms to effective clear people’s doubts and create the right awareness about disease prevention.
Addressing Misinformation and Fake News
Misinformation and fake news is a major challenge of our times. So much so, that a lot of Internet space is captured by fact checking platforms. Rumours and false news spread rapidly through social media channels and watsapp forwards and can then lead to violence in no time. Such misinformation and fake news has even resulted in incidents of violence against doctors in India. Reducing negative outcomes is heavily dependent on public cooperation which depends on making right information available to them and eliminating misinformation. Communication is therefore a key element of ensuring appropriate self-protective behaviour, building trust in officials and dispelling rumours.
The healthcare communication strategy must also include digital strategies to detect fake messages and issue rebuttals and clarifications in real time. The clarifications must carry credibility and should be issued by senior medical experts who are respected by the people.
Effective Communication with Healthcare Practitioners
While the government communicates with multiple departments and public through different communication strategies, it must also ensure that it delivers clear and updated communication to doctors and healthcare workers as well. New approaches in treatment are being identified and experimented every day across the world. Doctors in different settings have tried existing drugs such as Hydroxychloroquine or Remdesivir or other Anti viral drugs in combinations to control symptoms in seriously ill patients. It is important that government health consultancies undertake regular communication with doctors through district administrations to ensure that only approved treatment protocols are being adopted in treatment.
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