Communicating about HIV and Viral Hepatitis in Complex Times

By Meico Whitlock, Senior Manager, Communications, NASTAD

Cross-posted from AIDS.gov

Meico WhitlockLast month, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) attended the fourth annual Plain Talk in Complex Times conference in Arlington, Virginia. This year’s theme was “Communicating in a Time of Change.” The conference was hosted by the MAXIMUS Center for Health Literacy in collaboration with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and brought together leaders and decision-makers in fields such as public health, health communications, digital media, usability, accessibility, translation, interpretation, readability, design, and plain language to discuss communicating effectively with health consumers.

Sessions covered a range of topics such as writing for mobile device users, providing high quality care to linguistically diverse populations, and communicating effectively with numbers. A number of sessions also focused specifically on technology and provided helpful tips for tasks such conducting low-cost usability testing, enhancing website accessibility, producing podcasts, and graphic design for print materials.

As the Communication Manager for NASTAD, part of my role is to ensure that we share timely, accurate, and relevant content with our stakeholders in a way that is understandable and actionable. Most recently, we have been challenged to communicate what implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) means for communities impacted by HIV and viral hepatitis. To this end, a few major themes stuck out to us at the conference:

  1. Demographic Shifts: Plain language is important. Especially given the increasing number of individuals learning English as a second language and households where a language other than English is spoken. This of particular note for Latino communities that have experienced tremendous growth over the last decade and are disproportionately impacted by HIV and other health disparities.
  2. Accessibility: Providing high quality content and care means accessibility should not be an afterthought. As presenter Kel Smith shared, “accessibility is about providing fundamental human services” for users all abilities and backgrounds. “Digital outcasts” are taking it upon themselves to develop their own tools and we can learn from them to improve healthcare accessibility for even more people.
  3. New Media: Approximately 60% of U.S. adult say they have looked online for health information within the past year. This trend is one of many reason online tools such as new media can be an effective way to reach and engage audiences around a range of health topics. Whether your organization is online or not, a conversation is taking place and new media provide an opportunity to join and help shape the conversation.

In addition to attending sessions, we also co-hosted a social media lounge with AIDS.gov. The lounge provided an opportunity for one-on-one and group technical assistance on the use of new media to further public health work.

Overall, the conference provided an opportunity to learn about improving skills for communicating effectively with health consumers—in person, online, and in print. In a time of radical transformation in our healthcare systems for communities impacted by HIV and viral hepatitis, clear, timely, accurate, and relevant health information is increasingly important.

Did you participate Plain Talk 2013 or follow the conversation on Twitter? Are you working to improve health communication in your work? Share what you have learned by leaving a comment below.

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