Category: Health Communication

A Lack of Vacc’s in this “Mild” Flu Season

Every year, our immune systems are exposed to a new strain of the flu. The flu evolves and changes constantly. This is why we have to get a new vaccine or “flu shot” every year. However, as the viruses change, so does the severity of their disease.

The impact of the flu virus is unpredictable, and that is why the CDC (and many other public health professionals) will always advise people to get their flu shot.  However, this year, a majority of adults are refusing to get their shot. A survey from mid-November showed that only 43% of 18+ adults have gotten their flu shots in the US.

From this survey, many of the people who have not been vaccinated claim they do not intend to get vaccinated. People seem to believe this is a “mild” flu season – as the death toll is not comparable to the high burden from the previous year. However, there is no way to know if the flu itself is actually “mild” this early in the season.

 

 

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm

http://www.norc.org/NewsEventsPublications/PressReleases/Pages/41-percent-of-americans-do-not-intend-to-get-a-flu-shot.aspx

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/07/health/flu-season-vaccination-november-30-cdc/index.html

 

 

 

40th Minority Health Conference – Feb. 22, 2019

Save the Date! The 40th annual Minority Health Conference will be taking place on February 22, 2019 at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Advocacy for Change: Celebrating Past Successes and Planning for the Future,” which celebrates how advocacy can be used as a powerful tool for advancing the health of minorities and people of color.

The Minority Health Conference is the largest and longest running student-led health conference in the United States. The first conference was held in 1977 by the Minority Student Caucus. Past conference themes have ranged from health policy impacts on minorities to workplace health, to economic mobility and minority health.

Last year’s Minority Health Conference celebrated the theme of “Reclaiming the Narrative,” focusing on how narratives as a form of storytelling can be used as a driver for social change. I had the absolute pleasure of attending this conference and learning from the experiences of change leaders in our communities and their contributions to minority health.

Additional Minority Health Conference information, including how to register will be shared soon at http://minorityhealth.web.unc.edu/. You can also check out the Minority Health Conference Twitter page here.

References

http://minorityhealth.web.unc.edu/

https://sph.unc.edu/mhp/minority-health-conference/

Drug Overdose & Suicide Rates Climb in the US While Life Expectancy Falls

Despite being leaders in medical innovation, the United States is often criticized for healthcare problems that don’t exist in other developed nations. Lately, increasing rates of suicide and drug overdose have taken a toll on our population’s life expectancy. Recent government reports from the CDC have shown a decrease in life expectancy from 2016 to 2017.

 

In 2017, approximately 70,000 yearly deaths were attributed to drug overdosing, which is almost 7,000 more than the year before. In addition to this, suicide rates had increased by nearly 4% from the previous year. Both of these statistics are alarming and disturbing. For while we are constantly advancing science and medicine to create novel disease treatments and cures, we often are ignoring preventable public health crises.

 

These statistics contribute to the evidence that drug overdose is a mishandled and somewhat neglected epidemics in the United States. Other sources suggest that mental health has been on the decline in the United States for years. Taken as a whole, these findings highlight the need for more attention to these preventable morbidities and mortalities.

 

https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/29/health/life-expectancy-2017-cdc/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/

https://www.realclearhealth.com/articles/2018/05/17/cdc_neglect_is_killing_americans_110787.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-mental-health-declining-in-the-u-s/

 

December 1st is World AIDS Day

Yesterday was World AIDS Day, a global event that takes place each year on December 1st to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, to honor those who have died from AIDS-related illness, and to show support for those living with HIV.

Globally, we have made advances in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. New HIV infections have decreased by 47% since 1996, and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have fallen more than 51% since 2004. We have made advances in HIV testing and prevention as well as antiretroviral treatment. Pre-exposure antiretroviral prophylaxis or “PrEP” has been shown to be an effective form of HIV prevention. PrEP is a pill that, when taken consistently, can reduce HIV infection risk in high-risk individuals by up to 92%. And when used with other HIV prevention methods such as using condoms, can offer even more protection. In 2015, the World Health Organization recommended use of pre-exposure antiretroviral prophylaxis or “PrEP” for high-risk individuals to prevent HIV.

However, while we have made tremendous progress in understanding the HIV virus and how to both treat and prevent it, there is still more to be done. About one in four people with HIV do not know they are infected. 1.8 million people are newly infected each year with HIV, any people across the globe lack access to the critical HIV prevention and care that they need to live long, healthy lives.

To learn more about HIV and how you can support people living with the virus, please visit the following resources:

CDC: About HIV/AIDS | https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html

HIV.gov | https://www.hiv.gov/

HIV/AIDS World Health Organization | http://www.who.int/hiv/en/

San Francisco AIDS Foundation | http://www.sfaf.org/hiv-info/

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November 1). Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2018, July 25). The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic. https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/fact-sheet/the-global-hivaids-epidemic/

National AIDS Trust: World AIDS Day. (2018). About World AIDS Day. https://www.worldaidsday.org/about/

UNAIDS. (2018). Global HIV & AIDS statistics  – 2018 fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018, November 20). Global Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/global-statistics

World Health Organization. (2015). Guideline on when to start antiretroviral therapy and on pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, web supplement: annex 2: evidence to decision-making tables and supporting evidence (No. WHO/HIV/2015.36). World Health Organization.

World Health Organization. (N.d.). WHO and HIV: 30-Year Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/hiv/mediacentre/news/WAD_Timeline.jpg

Improving Patient-Provider Communication: Meet Crystal Bentley

Last week, Crystal Bentley, RN, second-year Master of Public Health student in the UNC Gillings School, joined our class to share with us her interests and work in health communication.

Crystal is currently a research assistant in the Community Engagement, AHEC, and Outreach Services department of the UNC Health Sciences Library where she is developing provider-facing health literacy training modules. The goal of her work is to improve patient-provider communication and patient knowledge.

This is not a recent interest of hers, however. Crystal spent the past six years working as a registered nurse in the areas of emergency medicine, public health, and collegiate campus health prior to beginning her graduate program. These experiences are what sparked her interest in patient-provider communication, patient advocacy, and shared decision making. In her daily interactions with patients, Crystal would often see a disconnect between the way patients and providers would communicate and interact with each other in the clinical setting. It was not long until she discovered her calling was to help bridge this gap within patient-provider sphere.

Some of the key takeaways from Crystal’s talk were that lack of health literacy can have both important health and financial implications. She also described the important of using plain language and being mindful of cultural sensitivity when developing health communication materials for different audiences.

Crystal Bentley is a second-year Master of Public Health student in the Department of Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also an Interdisciplinary Health Communication scholar, and will be completing her certificate next semester along with her degree program.

What are your thoughts on health literacy? What do you feel are important components of good patient-provider interaction and communication? Let us know in the comments below!

FDA Expands HPV Vaccine for People Ages 27 to 45

Earlier last month, the FDA announced it has approved Gardasil 9, a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) for people between the ages of 27 and 45. Previously, the FDA approved the HPV vaccine for individuals aged 9 through 26 years.

Gardasil 9 protects against nine types of HPV, a virus that is transmitted sexually and through intimate skin-to-skin contact. HPV is a very common virus and many individuals will get it at some point in their lives. While most HPV infections go away on their own, some may stick around and cause genital warts and cancer. This may be cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus, as well as cancer of the back of the throat.

It is recommended that all children aged 11 or 12 receive the HPV vaccine series. The vaccine is most effective at this age, before children are exposed to HPV.

Still, however, individuals up to age 45 years can now get the HPV vaccine. Older individuals can protect themselves against nine types of HPV. And even if one has been exposed to a few types, the vaccine will protect against the other strains they have not been exposed to.

HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. Why not consider protecting yourself?

For more information, check out the following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources:

What is HPV? 

HPV and Cancer

HPV Cancer Screening

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, August 23). Human Papillomavirus: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/questions-answers.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, December13). What is HPV? https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/whatishpv.html

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018, October 9). FDA approves expanded use of Gardasil 9 to include individuals 27 through 45 years old. Retrieved from

https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/UCM622715.htm?utm_campaign=10052018_PR_FDA%20approves%20expanded%20use%20of%20Gardasil%209%20to%20include%20individuals%2027%20through%2045%20years%20old

Grady, D & Hoffman, J. (2018, October 5). HPV Vaccine Expanded or People Ages 27 to 45. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/health/hpv-virus-vaccine-cancer.html

October is Health Literacy Month!

Founded in 1999 by Helen Osborne, Health Literacy Month is all about promoting understandable health information. This information is critical in order for individuals to make appropriate health decisions.

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services. This includes reading, writing, and numeracy of health information. Sometimes, health information can be difficult to understand and communicate among different audiences. This can make navigating the healthcare system challenging.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 77 million U.S. adults have basic or below basic health literacy. Low health literacy can lead to poor health outcomes, such low uptake of preventive health services and/or greater use of treatment health services. This can lead to high healthcare costs.

There are many factors that can affect health literacy. Some of these factors include: education, age, language, and culture. Culture can play a key role in how one understands and responds to health information. Culture involves certain beliefs, values, communication styles that all can affect how one processes health information. Therefore, it is important that health information is communicated in a way that is culturally appropriate for the individual or audience.

One key setting for health literacy is that of patient and health care providers. Patients may have difficulty understanding complex medical information, while providers may have difficulty communicating complex medical information. It is important for providers and patients to work together in order to ensure that health information is understood and communicated effectively, so that the best health care decisions are made for the patient.

Interested in learning more about health literacy? Check out the following resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Additional resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

References:

Kindig, D. A., Panzer, A. M., & Nielsen-Bohlman, L. (Eds.). (2004). Health literacy: a prescription to end confusion. National Academies Press.

National Institutes of Health. (2017, May 31). Health Literacy. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/institutes-nih/nih-office-director/office-communications-public-liaison/clear-communication/health-literacy

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). America’s Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information. Retrieved from https://health.gov/communication/literacy/issuebrief/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  (N.d.). Quick Guide to Health Literacy: Fact Sheet – Health Literacy Basics. Retrieved from https://health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  (N.d.). Quick Guide to Health Literacy: Fact Sheet – Health Literacy and Health Outcomes. Retrieved from https://health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (N.d.). Health Literacy: Definition. Retrieved from https://nnlm.gov/initiatives/topics/health-literacy

Dr. Leana Wen Selected as New President of Planned Parenthood

Last week, it was announced that Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, will serve as the new president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, an organization that provides vital sexual and reproductive health care and education to millions of people around the world. Dr. Wen will be the first physician in almost 50 years to serve in this role. She will succeed Cecile Richards, who has served as president of Planned Parenthood for the past 12 years.

Dr. Wen, an emergency medicine physician, has led the Baltimore City Health Department since January 2015. She is a passionate public health leader and active champion for communities and patients. During her tenure as Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Wen led a lawsuit against the Trump administration after its abrupt decision to cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs, resulting in $5 million of funding being restored to two of these programs in Baltimore. Additionally, Dr. Wen has fought to preserve Title X in Baltimore, which funds a variety of health care services for low-income women.

Dr. Wen is no stranger to Planned Parenthood. After she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from China, they depended on Planned Parenthood for their health care. Dr. Wen also volunteered at a Planned Parenthood health center in St. Louis during medical school.

In a recent statement posted on the Baltimore City Health Department website, Dr. Wen wrote:

“A core principle in public health is to go where the need is. The single biggest public health catastrophe of our time is the threat to women’s health and the health of our most vulnerable communities.”

She continues, in referring to Planned Parenthood, writing:

“I have seen firsthand the lifesaving work it does for our most vulnerable communities. As a doctor, I will ensure we continue to provide high-quality health care, including the full range of reproductive care, and will fight to protect the access of millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood.”

Dr. Wen’s last day as Baltimore City Health Commissioner will be Friday, October 12th, where she will then begin her new role as President of Planned Parenthood.

References:

Planned Parenthood. (N.d.). Dr. Leana Wen. Retrieved from  https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/our-leadership/dr-leana-wen

Planned Parenthood. (N.d.). Cecile Richards. Retrieved from  https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/our-leadership/cecile-richards

Zernike, Kate. (2018, September 12). Planned Parenthood Names Leana Wen, a Doctor, Its New President. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/us/politics/planned-parenthood-president-wen.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fpolitics

Wen, Leana S. (2018, July 6). Trump’s family planning dystopia. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0708-wen-dystopia-20180703-story.html

Baltimore City Health Department. (2018, September 12). Statement from Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen. Retrieved from https://health.baltimorecity.gov/news/press-releases/2018-09-12-statement-baltimore-city-health-commissioner-dr-leana-wen

Dr Lisa on the Streets: An approach to improve health literacy

Health literacy has become a buzzword not only in the public health world but in general. As the technologies, treatments and advancements are improving the quality of medicine, the way that these new discoveries are communicated are not. One physician and public health professional has made it her mission to increase the awareness of the health literacy crisis here in the United States by taking it to who it affects the most, Americans. She has launched a “Dr. Lisa on the Streets” campaign to increase awareness and gather support to improve the way health information is communicated. In her TedX talk “Are you confused about health information? You’re not alone” she discusses the economic consequences of low health literacy and how as a nation we can attempt to improve this. She refers to the “grapevine” (casual conversations, internet etc.) as one of the most powerful educators and needing to capitalize on this as a means of sharing health information.

Here are few strategies mentioned in the video about improving health literacy:

  • Manage the grapevine, it’s like ivy if it isn’t maintained it will get out of control
    • Need grapevine to counteract misinformation through verification before spreading information
  • Doctors need to embrace technology
    • Change is inspired by the masses
  • Health literacy is up to you!
    • Avoid gaps in care
    • Find your provider
    • Be persistent

To learn more about this movement and health literacy watch the full TedX talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x6DLqtaK2g

Health Orientations for New Patients

Orientations for new patients are one technique for setting the stage for positive patient experiences with a new clinic, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the healthcare system. These orientations have been shown to be successful in reducing stress for cancer patients, preparing patients for beginning psychotherapy, and reducing no-show appointments in a primary care setting, which improves clinic efficiency.

As the Patient Navigator at a Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC) from 2016 to 2017, I was tasked with creating this type of program for immigrant and refugee patients, whose cultural differences and unfamiliarity with the American healthcare system often serve as a barrier to successful clinic interactions. From speaking to clinic providers on various levels, as well as patients from refugee communities, I established the following priorities for the orientation curriculum:

  1. Prescription refill process
  2. Calls to our clinic – what to expect, how to request an interpreter, how to speak to a nurse
  3. Difference between preventative and acute care, and emergencies, and benefits of seeing your provider at least once a year
  4. How to make and cancel appointments, and why no-shows reduce our efficiency
  5. Different occupations that clinic staff hold, and how staff can connect patients to other resources they may need
  6. General information about the American healthcare system that may be confusing, such as insurance coverage and social services application processes
  7. Patient rights and responsibilities
  8. Interactions with providers – letting patients know that they can and should ask questions when confused, or when misunderstood by an interpreter or provider

I quickly found that creating a curriculum like this presents several challenges. For example, “refugees and immigrants” is a broad group of people, representing those from wildly different education levels and familiarity with Western healthcare systems. Many times, it was impossible to know patients’ backgrounds before meeting with them to discuss our clinic. I had to be careful to be informational without seeming patronizing, while basing communication strategy on the perceived level of understanding of the patient, which can also be influenced by cultural norms.

Patient orientations have a great potential to reduce patient stress, improve understanding of clinic operations, and give the power back to the patient when it comes to their own health. However, cultural differences must be given weight when developing this type of program. Using community leaders or liaisons for curriculum development and delivery may be a way to bridge that gap.

Sources:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1611(199805/06)7:3%3C207::AID-PON304%3E3.0.CO;2-T

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/1097-4679(198311)39:6%3C872::AID-JCLP2270390610%3E3.0.CO;2-X

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1525-1497.2000.00201.x

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953610003199