A gatekeeper’s advice on sharing knowledge
The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited a noticeable increase in demand for high-quality, accurate information on health and the healthcare system from academics and the general public. With that has come an “infodemic” of lies, conspiracies and misinformation.
As an engagement editor here at healthydebate.ca, with a background in health studies and soon to be starting graduate education in public health, I have observed how both the general public and academics have shared and absorbed information. As a gatekeeper for health experts to get their voices out to the public, I understand the importance of messaging, especially when we must share multifaceted information needed to reach multiple audiences.
Here are five key observations to consider when sharing information.
Various social media platforms demand a specific lens of information:
Social media enable us to able to reach large audiences while tagging our content with useful hashtags to get the information trending. However, posts related to health can get lost in the vast amounts of competing content and remain within the niched social network of the user. As an online website, we have observed how diverse the audiences are across our three social platforms. For example, our Facebook network primarily consists of general consumers while our Twitter feed reaches the medical community. Each platform impacts how our content is absorbed. An article on incarceration and phone access drew a sympathetic reaction from our Twitter audience and focused on social, economic and mental ramifications while our Facebook audience reacted critically and focused on punishment.
We are all in need of information:
At the start of the pandemic, most people were starved for information. Readers wanted to know what to expect and to share that information. The pandemic was an opening for academics and practitioners to share their knowledge and research and resulted in a surge in written submissions and an almost immediate jump in readership. Dr. Blair Bigham’s March article, Four things Canada needs to do NOW to support healthcare workers and frontlines, quickly became one of our most read pieces on the website with 23,00 page views. Some of the article’s key aspects were its clear, concise writing providing insightful, accessible information that could be understood by both niche medical professionals and the general public.
Easy to understand language speaks to both academic and general readers:
As the person responsible for posting content, I am also responsible for ensuring it is accessible to its intended audience. As health insiders, the research we engage in touches more than those in our respective fields. We tend to speak mainly to our peers and use complex medical language and jargon. Terms as simple as “patient presented with” are not everyday language. Simplifying terms and sentences for the public ultimately closes the knowledge gaps in health information.
Be creative to give readers the information they need in the most accessible way:
Many of our submissions come from people used to writing in academic journals. These platforms are usually text heavy. Reproducing lengthy text into short infographics, interactive videos or podcasts allows us to comprehensively explain complex information and educate the general public. An example is TikTok. Although medical professionals have faced challenges on its use and have questioned its impact on credibility, it can be a great tool to educate the public on concepts and medical terms that are unfamiliar.
The sudden changes to our daily lives have led to an avalanche of questions. Many patients and health-system users have taken it upon themselves to fill in knowledge gaps. Our patient navigator section has provided informed insights on specific topics, generated our highest organic traffic and is among our most engaged content. The navigator messaging relies on specific answers to specific health topics that are easy to be search-engine optimized and thus be made widely accessible. This illustrates that health consumers are searching for well-researched, easy-to-understand content that can give them information quickly.
Accurate, accessible health information is essential in educating the general public and professional peers, especially in times of crisis. My time as a gatekeeper has shown me that there is vast interest in accurate, easy-to-access information. As health insiders, we must aim to strengthen our messaging.
Nikita Singh is the Audience Engagement Editor at Healthy Debate. She studied population health at the University of Toronto and will be starting the Master of Public Health program at the Public Health, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University.