Posted By Hope Alfaro On July 13, 2016
Advancements in technology have greatly improved efficiency and outcomes for both healthcare providers and patients. Electronic Health Records (EHR) help to advance clinical care coordination and billing, medical technology innovations have provided new, cost effective treatments, and continued research improves knowledge and data every day.
But along with the good, technology has also brought new problems to healthcare – easy access to information via the internet has created more self-diagnosis through sites like WebMD and the lightning speed of social media makes misinformation easy to disseminate and hard to combat. Anti-vaccination communities have spread quickly from shared conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific claims creating new outbreaks of once nearly eliminated diseases. The fight against Zika in creating a vaccine for the virus has already facing concern on the future success of the vaccine campaign. Recently, a study released in Vaccine researched Twitter messages (tweets) making references to both vaccines and Zika. The study showed a great increase in tweets associated with pseudo-scientific claims corresponding with increased media attention around the outbreak.
So how do Community Health Centers, including Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), and Local Health Departments (LHD) work to educate their community when pseudo-science is so easily spread, even before a vaccine has been developed? It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your community. Staying up to date on local news is valuable, but you should also be able to use your own data from your EHR to know what the health climate of vulnerable communities looks like.
GIS — short for geographic information system — is software that is capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced data. While global health organizations and public health agencies in the U.S. have long used it for population health purposes, its use in the private and non-profit sector has mostly been limited to strategic planning and marketing. FQHCs should also be able to use this software from their EHR to help pinpoint where you should be focusing information and on what. While Zika might be of the greatest concern for FQHCs in Puerto Rico, combating misinformation on common childhood vaccines, proper sleep care for newborns, or reproductive health and STD prevention might be the bigger battle for your Health Center.
The communication options in your EHR also provide an opportunity to send out information campaigns through email or text, the same way you send reminders for appointments to your patients. There should also be options for secure messaging, so your patients know they are getting verified information. Social Media is also an easy avenue for disseminating the right information. Partnering with other popular entities in your community will help spread the word and help get valuable information out to your community. For example, other community events, such as fairs or farmer’s markets are an opportunity to get in front of constituents who might not be patients, but routinely interact with patients at social functions.
The best way to stop misinformation in your community is to get ahead of it. Know what health issues are affecting your community and be the biggest voice spreading the right resources. The more data and information you have at your disposal, the better your efforts will be.