Right now, I’m working on a webinar. It’ll be the first in a series of three, for Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health through the Region 2 Public Health Training Center.
I’ve been working on it quite a while, and I’m excited about it. It’s scheduled for June, and it’s free and open to the public. As soon as I have the link, I’ll share it with you.
The leadership at R2PHTC reached out to me because they wanted to focus on interprofessional communication. It’s a large topic, to be sure. So we spoke multiple times about what this webinar series could look like.
My approach to workshops, talks, and classes involves co-constructing the topic with those who have asked me to speak. This is in part because, in health communication, one size does not fit all.
Communicating with different audiences
With the R2PHTC, for example, I asked about the goals and needs of those who Region 2 serves. Over phone and email, we narrowed down some ways I could best support them. Things really began to come together when a Director said:
There’s lots of different stakeholders that public health needs to draw on, to get the community health improvement work done. We need help communicating with folks that we’re going to work with, that may have different attitudes, assumptions, goals and approaches than we do.”
That’s a pretty stunning summative statement. This Director’s clear and comprehensive view gave me a wonderful place to begin to build the webinar series.
She’s not alone in her insight and commitment to the importance of health communication—and the many forms it can take. Columbia’s SocioMedical Sciences and I had worked together before. Last year, I gave a webinar there on implicit bias. Then, too, the leadership at R2PHTC had a keen sense of what public health professionals had been experiencing when it came to implicit bias. (If you’d like to see the resulting webinar, you can view it here.)
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Communication and power
Again regarding interprofessional communication, I was approached by leadership and students in Columbia’s Masters in Health Administration program. My process was the same, and again I was riveted and humbled by what this group had to say.
Over a few weeks, we had multiple conversations regarding issues of equity and disparities, and how these had been taken up already in their program. And of course, we talked about communication.
The students showed me that social concerns were growing in importance in the health conversation, for them as future health leaders—and as one student put it, for “the future of American health care.” We gradually talked about whose interests are served, and whose are not, in health systems.
Through give-and-take on phone and email, we landed on a topic: I would give a workshop on exposing the hidden power dynamics in ordinary, everyday, interprofessional communication. (The workshop was postponed due to a snowstorm, but I’m hoping we’ll get to it!)
Interprofessional communication and health literacy
Sometimes, I wind up talking about interprofessional communication when I’m addressing health literacy. Because of my disciplinary background, I see the two as closely connected. And it turns out, I’m not the only one.
I recently gave a plenary session on health literacy at the Chronic Disease Prevention Symposium in Myrtle Beach. Again, I tailor-make the talk based on the topic we arrive at together.
During one conference call with the planning committee, I asked, “When it comes to health literacy, what are conference attendees concerned about, what are providers wondering about?” One person answered:
They tend to think of health literacy in the terms of the patient, and not necessarily their own health literacy, or the role they play in health literacy, period.”
Others on the call quickly contextualized this for me in terms of health literacy as a topic competing for providers’ attention. They connected this to issues of provider burnout and health equity. Health literacy could quickly become a negative, as one committee member put it, “If this is just one more thing I have to deal with..!”
For me, it was clear that whatever I did, I couldn’t add one more thing. My talk had to be situated in what providers were already doing. So with further input from the committee, in the resulting plenary, I put forward some possible ways of approaching the issue of dealing with patients’ health literacy by asking providers to think of their own health literacy.
A similar connection between health literacy and interprofessional communication came up a couple years ago. I was giving a working session on health literacy at a Dental College. There was broad agreement that quite a lot of time was spent educating patients on how thing worked at the Dental College and its clinics.
We began by talking about patients’ health literacy in terms of, as one participant put it, “when issues arise concerning financials, patient treatment, or just an overall misunderstanding of how we operate.”
But before long, we were talking about how interprofessional communication dovetails with health literacy and patient communication. As one participant said:
When I think about from a patient perspective, an advocate perspective, there’s lack of information. Then there’s lack of consistent information. There can be–and there often is–a miscommunication of those policies to the patients. And then, as opposed to effectively communicating that amongst each other, we just continue to give patients information that’s inconsistent. And it causes problems.”
This comment had the whole room nodding, so I asked participants to weigh in if they felt it resounded for them. Gradually we landed at some insights about the two-way nature of education, and of health literacy.
They were educating each other, as professionals, but thought this process could be expanded, foregrounded, and made more intentional. Ultimately, this would help them help patients with health literacy. It would also help with other flow-of-information needs that would improve the working of the clinics–and, they hoped, the health outcomes for the communities served.
How can I help your group?
I co-create my talks with the audience because one size does not fit all. But there’s more.
I also work this way because my talks might mean nothing–unless they mean something to the audience.
I’ve been honored to work with and learn from committed, compassionate, and leaderful people across the health sector. This is Health Communication Partners, after all! Let’s Partner together and start a conversation that will endure.
I would be happy to help your organization address issues of communication, health literacy, and education. My process remains the same, and the results are customized experiences, tailored for your organization, grounded in decades of the world’s best research. Just fill out the form below.