Continuing our 21st anniversary celebration of health information, Katie Salt – Information and Support Manager at Target Ovarian Cancer tells us the life saving difference health information can make if it is tailored to reach people where they are, not where we want them to be.
Health information. The concept doesn’t sound exciting, does it? For many people it conjures up thoughts of tired-looking noticeboards or complicated leaflets, with stern instructions telling us to change our habits: eat less sugar, give up smoking, exercise regularly (but not too much); eat a balanced diet (how many fruits and vegetables is it now?) or be mindful (whatever that means). Health information can be overwhelming. So, we switch off.
Consider a woman in her 50s. She’s a professional, in full-time work, with hobbies that take up two evenings per week. She’s got a family and she sees friends regularly. She’s keeping track of her finances, travel, transport, insurance, relationships, sexual health, children, education, nutrition, exercise, current affairs and more – just to maintain the lifestyle that she has. Even during her snatched free moments, on her commute or in a queue, she’s scrolling through endless announcements from people she knows (and people she doesn’t) on her phone, at every opportunity being encouraged to be proactive: comment, like, retweet or find out more.
It’s against this backdrop that we, as health information professionals, are now trying to be heard.
Perhaps our busy professional is feeling bloated. How long is it before she even notices that feeling? How long until she can’t remember how long it’s been going on, or if there have been any other changes too? How long before she dismisses it as just one of those things that’s inevitable for a woman of her age? How long before she books a GP appointment, has tests, is referred to a gynaecologist? How long before she’s diagnosed with ovarian cancer, at the most advanced stage, when the disease is hard to treat and her chances of surviving the next five years might be just 46 per cent?
As health information experts, it’s vital that our messages are heard among the noise. There are few things more important than our health, and I may be biased, but I think health information is just more important than most of the other messages people are competing with. Persistent bloating is one of the four main symptoms of ovarian cancer, but according to Target Ovarian Cancer’s research, more women would actually consider changing their diet than visiting their GP if they were experiencing bloating regularly.
This competition for attention – which for me has been the biggest change I’ve seen in health information – is here to stay, so the real question is, how do we win? In a world where we’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad, even money doesn’t seem to work. So, we’ve got to think creatively.
Back to our busy professional who is feeling bloated. Now there’s an Instagram post about bloating she scrolls past while she’s waiting for her coffee. There’s a poster in the changing room at her gym and a sticker on the back of the toilet door in the restaurant she goes to with her family, telling her to go to her GP. There’s a video about bloating that’s been shared on Facebook, a hashtag on Twitter, and a group on WhatsApp where her friends chat about what’s normal for them.
It’s all the same message, but it’s delivered in different ways, at different times, for the different parts of her life.
Yes, a person with ovarian cancer is defined by their diagnosis in terms of treatment, or prognosis, or specialised support: this is crucial to make sure they get the best possible care. But this person is not defined by their diagnosis alone. This woman might be retired, a solicitor, an artist, or an athlete; a pianist, a chef, or a surgeon. She’ll have friends, family and relationships with people she cares about, and who care about her. She will have skills, ideas, values, hopes and wishes – and our health information messaging must recognise this. We must tailor what we have to reach people where they are, not where we want them to be.
Our busy professional is still feeling bloated. She goes about her busy routine as before, but now she sees the messaging. We’ve put it where she is. She goes to her GP. She’s still diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but at the earliest stage, where the disease is easier to treat and her chances of survival can be up to 90 per cent. That’s the difference our information can make. And that’s exciting enough for me.
Posted on Tuesday, 11th December 2018