Communication skills required for effective media advocacy in health information management

Introduction
Media
advocacy in health information management is the strategic use of mass media to
support community organizing and advance healthy public policy.
Media advocacy as it affects health information
management is the logical communication strategy to support needed policy
advocacy by encouraging proactive citizens who can take action in the political
realm to enact healthy public policy.

Media
advocacy in health information management differs in many ways from traditional
public health campaigns because it focuses on changing environments in which
people make their health decisions rather than focusing on individual behaviour
change. It is most marked by an emphasis on:
·        
linking
public health and social problems to inequities in social arrangements rather
than to flaws in the individual;
·        
changing
public policy rather than personal health behaviour;
·        
focusing
primarily on reaching opinion leaders and policy makers rather than on those
who have the problem (the traditional audience of public health communication
campaigns);
·        
working
with groups to increase participation and amplify their voices rather than
providing health behaviour change messages; and
·        
having
a primary goal of reducing the power gap rather than just filling the information
gap
THE BODY
Before
delving into media advocacy in health information management, practitioners
must possess effect communication skills and be mindful of some crucial issues.
These issues include:
Ability to Define the Problem
Defining the problem in health information management
media advocacy is very important; the way the problem is defined determines the
range of acceptable approaches or solutions. If the problem is defined narrowly,
the solution is defined narrowly as well. Media advocates define the problem at
the environmental or community level. That way, they can focus upstream on
preventing the problem rather than downstream after the damage has been done.
As a
health information management media advocates, one may be inclined to think of
problems in broad terms: e.g. tobacco kills, tobacco companies are evil, etc. But
this could be more effective to define the problem in much focused terms: e.g.
tobacco companies have access to our community via our ignorance. Focusing the
problem leads to focused responses.
Being Mindful of Social Norms
The media
advocacy tactics in health information management are not necessarily
one-size-fits-all. Since every community is different, not every idea presented
will be appropriate. Local media advocates will have to be mindful of the
social norms of individuality of different communities and deal with them
accordingly.
Some
communities are used to conflict and protest and would not really be ready to
understand health information practitioners taking a controversial stand on
issue concerning them, in this situation, health information practitioners must
be ready to understand the norm in the community and be able to tactically
manage the situation. Other communities—especially smaller communities where
individuals are much more likely to know each other personally—may not be used
to such controversy.
It is
worthy of note that how advocacy arguments are framed and the media advocacy
strategies that practitioners which to develop must fit the expectations of the
community as well as the need to attract news attention.
Advocates must be ready to
identify opportunities
Because
media advocacy relies on generating news attention, it is important for health
information management practitioners involve in media advocacy to think opportunistically.
Advocates should earnestly look and be able to take advantage of opportunities
to draw media attention to their issue. At every point in time, advocates must be
prepared to be opportunistic in taking advantage of unique situations that present
themselves in their target communities.
Being Persistent
In the
process of creating a health information advocacy strategy, it is very easy to
assume that the idea that the message will be acceptable to all concerned that the
public will see the light, agree with you, and follow your recommendations.
Sadly, it does not work that way.
Messages
and media strategies in health information management build over time. For
example in an anti-tobacco media advocacy campaign, The first time someone
said, “Your right to smoke ends where my nose begins,” they did not create
immediate demand for clean indoor air policies. In fact, people talked about
this need for about 20 years before there were any places that banned smoking.
But, with steady effort and accumulation of messages, policy development, and mobilizing
supporters, the idea grew and clean indoor air spaces are increasingly the norm.
Media
advocacy in health information management is part of a long-term strategy that
combines careful policy analysis, message development, framing, community
mobilization, and advocacy with other resources to bring community-based
pressure to bear on forces undermining our health. Media advocacy in health
information management doesn’t get the job done by itself, but it can be a
powerful tool to accelerate and amplify the efforts of community members.
Ability to Identify Policy
Approach to the Problem
Media advocates in health
information management have to figure out, and be able to say clearly, what
needs to happen to fix the problem. It is advisable that the solution should
not be too broad or vague to be workable. For example, an “educated public” may
be more receptive to public health messages, but trying to “educate the public”
is not a tangible solution that is easily attained.
Generally, “solutions” to
public health problems are not short-term or singular but part of ongoing
efforts to address a particular issue. “Changing a newspaper’s advertising
policy,” “convincing a restaurant chain to ban smoking,” or “convincing a
university to divest itself from tobacco stocks” are all examples of
incremental policies that, if applied, would reduce harm from tobacco.
Long-term goals are, well,
long-term: they do not happen overnight. Incremental steps are necessary and
important. Whether for the long-term or immediate next step, it is useful to
articulate as clearly as possible the solution you seek for a media advocacy
initiative.
Ability to Identify those who
can Effect Change
Strategically,
health information management media advocates need to identify the person,
group or organization that has the power to make the change. This is a much
different “target” than the general public. Because media have the potential to
reach large audiences, health information management media advocates are often
tempted to try to concoct strategies and messages that will sway the hearts and
minds of large audiences. Ask media advocates who their target audience is and
they will frequently say “voters,” “the community,” or “the general public.”
The
problem is that it is hard to have a significant impact on large segments of the
population. Even political candidates, sellers of commercial products and
others with huge budgets and lots of experience often try and fail to reach
large audiences in a meaningful way. And, even if large portions of the
population could be convinced that still may not do the trick.
Support
does not always translate to policy change. As long as your media advocacy
campaign influences that small audience with the power to make the change you
want, it really doesn’t matter whether or not it has an impact on others. This
kind of narrow-audience approach to media can seem counterintuitive. Most of us
are used to thinking of mass-audiences when we think of media. In fact, most
traditional approaches to media (advertising, public relations, etc.) measure
their success largely on the simple question of how many people they have reached.
But media
advocacy recognizes that the power to change policy often rests with a much
smaller audience and it is that audience that media advocates try to reach.
Conclusion
For media
advocacy to be effective in health information management, advocates must
possess adequate communication skill by understanding the norm of their
targeted community, know those who have the capacity to effect change, get in
touch with them and be persistent. Above all, they must be able to select the
most effective medium to reach the people and draw attention of the media to
their activities in order to gain remarkable results
References
Bolinder, G.
(1998). “Smokeless tobacco use and increased cardiovascular mortality among
Swedish construction workers,” American Journal of Public Health Vol 84, No. 3.
CDC (1994).
“Surveillance for Selected Tobacco-Use Behaviors — United States, 1900-1994.”
MMWR 43 (SS-3)
Tomar, S.L.
(2009) “Chewing Tobacco Use and Dental Caries Among U.S. Men,” Journal of the
American Dental Association Vol.130, p. 160.
Wallack, L.
& Dorfman, L. (1996). Media advocacy: A strategy for advancing policy and
promoting health. Health Education
Quarterly, 23(3):
293-317.
Wallack, L.,
Woodruff, K., Dorfman, L. & Diaz, I. (1999). News for a Change: An
advocates’ guide to working with the media, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Publications.
Related Topic  Food Taboo and Types of Food Taboo.