The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a dramatic example of how vital health education is to the general population. Public health officials, including healthcare administrators, play a key role in getting messages to the public on the best practices for dealing with the pandemic.
It continues to be a formidable task. But for those who provide health education to the public, there is much to learn from both the successes and failures of communication during the pandemic. These are cogent lessons for students in an online Master of Science in Health Science program planning to join the ranks of healthcare leadership.
As the pandemic has shown, understanding best practices for public health communication during a health crisis is key to success for healthcare leaders.
Why Is Health Education So Important?
From the need to social distance and mask to the importance of getting a vaccine, health officials lead the way in the battle against the virus by communicating with the public. They’ve also learned that consistent messaging is key to protecting public health.
From the outset, experts emphasized the need for effective communication. A study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care in 2020 concluded that health professionals must prepare for “dynamic risk event and uncertainty management” during a pandemic.
“Any communication in COVID-19 is crucial whether from the government to people, from media to people, people to people, doctor to patient, within families, and so on,” the researchers wrote. “Effective communication emphasizes the importance of content, accuracy, comprehensive signs, symbols, language, culture, and semiotic rules.”
Challenges of Health Education
Meeting those communication standards means developing critical communication skills. This is especially important for those who are focusing on public health or healthcare administration in graduate school.
Healthcare leaders benefit from skills used by all business leaders to communicate with employees during the pandemic crisis. They include:
- Communicating frequently to keep people updated in an often-changing situation
- Providing safe channels for feedback
- Helping remote employees work effectively
- Addressing employee concerns about job security
- Providing a plan for the future
All this applies to healthcare. However, healthcare leaders face unique communication challenges, particularly with public health education. In 2021, a team of researchers from Netherlands-based global analytics firm Elsevier B.V. published a paper addressing some of the main challenges faced in healthcare communication during a crisis.
Explaining in Layman’s Terms
Members of the public without a great deal of medical knowledge are easily confused with esoteric terminology. Healthcare leaders must use language that is easily understood by the general public and that increases health literacy. With a pandemic, this is especially true in helping the public accurately assess the risk of certain activities.
Know What Information People Need
Effective communication focuses on the information that the public needs to keep themselves safe during a healthcare crisis. In the pandemic, healthcare leaders need to address concerns about the effectiveness of certain measures and the best steps to take for infection control.
Understand the Public’s Fears
Fear causes people to take actions that may not be in their best interest. During the pandemic, fears about the side effects of wearing masks or getting a vaccination at times have overwhelmed fear about the virus itself. Healthcare leaders must patiently work to understand the underlying reasons for people’s fears and address them in their communications.
The paper concludes that the pandemic has changed how healthcare leaders need to communicate. It also points to advanced technology – such as virtual consultants and virtual assistants – as methods to better communicate with the public.
Communication is always a fundamental skill for the best leaders. In healthcare, especially during a crisis, communication is critical. Graduate students in health sciences, public health, and healthcare administration all learn how to become better communicators as part of preparing for the challenges of healthcare leadership.