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Queer Healthcare Communication  

Nicole Hudak

Queer healthcare communication spans different literature and topic areas. The medicalization of queer bodies has historically and continues to influence how queer individuals interact and communicate within healthcare settings. Further, heterosexism is rampant within medical institutions that perpetuate the idea that all patients are heterosexual. Because of the influence of heterosexism, medical schools are designed to ignore queer bodies. If queer bodies are acknowledged, they are positioned as something exotic and not presented as a typical patient. Heterosexism is further communicated in patient and provider interactions by providers assuming their patients’ heterosexual identity and assuming all queer patients are promiscuous. In turn, queer patients may make decisions about their healthcare based on providers’ heterosexist attitudes. Providers who practice medicine have also demonstrated their limited knowledge about queer patients and how to care for them. The literature on discrimination of queer patients focuses more on how providers have used both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. In looking at queer discrimination, queer invisibility demonstrates more covert functions of healthcare communication. Due to the invisibility of queer patients, disclosure becomes a site of interest for researchers. While some queer patients try to seek out queer-friendly providers, researchers have given recommendations on how healthcare providers can improve their queer competency. Finally, some notable topics within queer healthcare communication include queer pregnancy, HIV, and why transgender identity should be a separate topic as transgender people have their own healthcare needs.

Article

Adherence and Communication  

Teresa L. Thompson and Kelly Haskard-Zolnierek

Patient adherence (sometimes referred to as patient compliance) is the extent to which a patient’s health behavior corresponds with the agreed-upon recommendations of the healthcare provider. The term patient compliance is generally synonymous with adherence but suggests that the patient played a more passive role in the healthcare professional’s prescription of treatment, whereas the term adherence suggests that the patient and healthcare professional have come to an agreement on the regimen through a collaborative, shared decision-making process. Another term related to the concept of adherence is persistence (i.e., taking a medication for the recommended duration). Some patients are purposefully or intentionally nonadherent, whereas others are unintentionally nonadherent due to forgetfulness or poor understanding of the regimen. Patients may be intentionally nonadherent because of a belief that the costs of the regimen outweigh the benefits, for example. Nonadherence behaviors in medication taking include never filling a prescription, taking too much or too little medication, or taking a medication at incorrect time intervals. Patient adherence is relevant not only in medication-taking behaviors, but also in health behaviors such as following a specific dietary regimen, maintaining an exercise program, attending follow-up appointments, getting recommended screenings or immunizations, and smoking cessation, among others. A number of factors predict patient adherence to treatment, but the relationship between provider-patient communication and adherence to treatment will be stressed. Focusing on recent research, the article examines the concept of patient adherence, describes how provider-patient communication can enhance patient adherence, explains what elements of communication are relevant for adherence, and illustrates how interventions to improve communication can improve adherence.

Article

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Disclosure in the Medical Context  

L. Brooke Friley and Maria K. Venetis

For individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, disclosing sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be a complex and risky conversation. However, in the medical context this conversation frequently becomes a central part of communication between patient and provider. Unfortunately, this conversation can also become a barrier that prevents patients from receiving or even accessing necessary medical care. LGBTQ+ individuals have reported experiencing significant discrimination in day-to-day life, and more specifically in patient–provider interactions. This discrimination leads LGBTQ+ individuals to avoid seeking necessary medical care and also frequently results in unsatisfactory care and poor health outcomes. This is of concern as LGBTQ+ individuals present with significantly higher rates of health issues and overall higher risks of cancer, chronic illnesses, and mental health concerns. Unfortunately, many medical providers are unequipped to properly care for LGBTQ+ patients and lack opportunities for education and training. This lack of experience leads many providers to operate medical offices that are unwelcoming or even inhospitable to LGBTQ+ patients, making it difficult for those patients to access inclusive care. This can be of particular concern when the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity becomes relevant to their medical care, as they may feel uncomfortable sharing that information with a provider. Patient self-disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity to a medical provider not only can contribute to a more positive relationship and improved quality of care but also can improve the psychological outlook of an LGBTQ+ individual. However, potential stigmatization can lead to the concealment of sexual orientation or gender identity information. These acts of concealment serve as intentional mechanisms of impression management within the patient–provider interaction. When LGBTQ+ patients do discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity with a provider, it is most often because the information is directly relevant to their health and disclosure, and therefore becomes essential and often forced. There are instances where LGBTQ+ patients are motivated to disclose to a provider who they believe will respond positively to information about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity may be direct in that it is clear and concrete. It may also be indirect in that individuals may use particular topics, such as talking about their partner, to broach the subject. Participants may also use specific entry points in the conversation, such as during taking a medical history about medications, to disclose. Some individuals plan and rehearse their disclosure conversations, whereas others disclose when they feel they have no other choice in the interaction. Increasing inclusivity on the part of providers and medical facilities is one way to promote comfortable disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, updating the office environment and policies, as well as paperwork and confidentiality procedures, can also promote safe disclosure. Finally, improvements to training and education for healthcare professionals and office staff can dramatically improve interactions with LGBTQ+ patients. All of these efforts need to make integration of knowledge about how LGTBQ+ individuals can disclose comfortably and safely a central part of program design.

Article

Social Media for Healthcare Communication  

S. Anne Moorhead

Social media used for communication purposes within healthcare contexts is increasing and becoming more acceptable. The users of social media for healthcare communication include members of the general public, patients, health professionals, and health organizations. The uses of social media for healthcare communication are various and include providing health information on a range of conditions; providing answers to medical questions; facilitating dialogue between patients and between patients and health professionals; collecting data on patient experiences and opinions used for health intervention, health promotion, and health education; reducing stigma; and providing online consultations. With emerging advances over time, including new platforms and purposes, these uses will change and expand, increasing usability and thus providing more opportunities to use social media in connection to healthcare in the future. However, both patients and health professionals may require training to fully maximize the uses of using social media in healthcare. Social media has numerous benefits for healthcare communication, including increased interactions with others; more available, shared, and tailored information; increased accessibility and widening access; and increased peer/social/emotional support. While there may be further benefits of using social media in healthcare, there are many limitations of social media for healthcare communication as well. The main reported limitations include a lack of reliability; quality concerns; and lack of confidentiality and privacy. From the available evidence, it is clear that maintaining patient privacy as well as the security and integrity of information shared are concerns when using social media. As patients and members of the general public use social media widely, some may expect it in healthcare, thus it important for health professionals and organizations to manage expectations of social media in healthcare communication. This results in challenges ranging from encouraging staff to use social media to dealing with user problems and complaints. It is recommended that organizations embrace social media but have a specific purpose for each activity and platform while continually monitoring traffic. Regardless of the nature or size of the healthcare organization, it is time to adopt appropriate guidelines for the use of the social media in healthcare communication to address the challenges and the growing expectations of using social media, especially within healthcare contexts. The key message is that social media has the potential to supplement and complement but not replace other methods to improve communication and interaction among members of the general public, patients, health professionals, and healthcare organizations.

Article

Gender as a Consideration When Designing Health and Risk Messages  

E. Michele Ramsey

Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group. Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females. While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country. The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.

Article

Health Literacy and Health/Risk Communication  

Michael Mackert, Sara Champlin, and Jisoo Ahn

Health literacy—defined as the ability of an individual to obtain, process, understand, and communicate about health information—contributes significantly to health outcomes and costs to the U.S. health-care system. Approximately one-quarter to one-half of U.S. adults struggle with health information, which includes understanding patient education materials, reading medication labels, and communicating with health-care providers. Low health literacy is more common among the elderly, those who speak English as a second language, and those of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to conceptualizing health literacy as an individual-level skill, it can also be considered an organizational or community-level ability. Increased attention to the field of health literacy has resulted in debates about the definition and the best ways to assess health literacy; there is also a strong and growing movement within the field of health literacy research and practice to frame health literacy less as a deficit to overcome and more as an approach to empowering patients and improving outcomes. As health-care providers have recognized the importance of health literacy, workshops, and training programs have been developed and evaluated to improve the care of low-health-literate patients. Similarly, health promotion professionals have developed best practices for reaching low-health-literate audiences with traditional and new digital media, which can also increase access for patients with hearing or visual impairments. Additionally, recent policy changes in the United States, including those related to the Affordable Care Act, contribute to a greater focus and regulation of factors that impact health literacy. Researchers and practitioners together are advancing understanding of health literacy, its relationship to health outcomes and health-care costs, and improved strategies for improving the health of lower health literate patients. Development and review of health literacy pieces can aid in shared decision making and provide insights for patients on various health-care services.

Article

Positive Deviance: A Non-Normative Approach to Health and Risk Messaging  

Arvind Singhal and Lucia Dura

The Positive Deviance (PD) approach is based on the premise that every community has individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers although everyone has access to the same resources and challenges. In contrast to traditional problem-solving approaches that begin with an expert-driven analysis of “what is not working” with people—their explicit needs, deficits, problems, and risks—followed by attempts to plug those gaps, the PD approach focuses on identifying “what is working.” PD offers a systematic framework to identify assets, indigenous knowledge, and home-grown solutions, and to amplify them for wider adoption. The PD approach was operationalized and systematized in the early 1990s in Vietnam to address malnutrition. At the time, 65% of children under five were malnourished. Instead of looking for the causes and applying best practices, PD pioneers looked for children from very poor families who were well-nourished. Through community-led efforts, they determined the existence of positive deviants, identified their behaviors and strategies, and amplified them. The process was replicated across 14 villages—each identifying its own batch of local practices—and malnutrition decreased by 85%. These actions led to PD as we know it today in the form of the “6 Ds”: Define, Determine, Discover, Design, Discern, and Disseminate. PD has been used widely to address a large number of intractable social problems—many of them dealing with health and risk: reducing endemic malnutrition, decreasing neonatal and maternal mortality, reducing goiter and diseases of micronutrient deficiency, boosting organ transplantation rates and cancer screenings, increasing mental well-being and psychological resilience, preventing and controlling malaria and Chagas, and reducing hospital-acquired infections in healthcare. From 2004 to 2008, six U.S. hospitals pioneered the use of PD to address the growing incidence of infections caused by the antibiotic resistant bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). PD was used to identify and amplify evidence-based infection prevention practices. Pilot outcomes included a 73% average reduction in healthcare-associated MRSA infections units and a subsequent decrease of between 33 and 84% at the different hospitals. The PD approach to problem-solving holds important implications for public health scholars and practitioners, risk communicators, and message designers. The cases of Vietnam and one of the pilot hospitals are used to illustrate the ways that through language- and action-based strategies PD challenges traditional risk and health messaging, proposing instead an asset-based, participatory, and sustainable framework.

Article

Big Data’s Role in Health and Risk Messaging  

Bradford William Hesse

The presence of large-scale data systems can be felt, consciously or not, in almost every facet of modern life, whether through the simple act of selecting travel options online, purchasing products from online retailers, or navigating through the streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood using global positioning system (GPS) mapping. These systems operate through the momentum of big data, a term introduced by data scientists to describe a data-rich environment enabled by a superconvergence of advanced computer-processing speeds and storage capacities; advanced connectivity between people and devices through the Internet; the ubiquity of smart, mobile devices and wireless sensors; and the creation of accelerated data flows among systems in the global economy. Some researchers have suggested that big data represents the so-called fourth paradigm in science, wherein the first paradigm was marked by the evolution of the experimental method, the second was brought about by the maturation of theory, the third was marked by an evolution of statistical methodology as enabled by computational technology, while the fourth extended the benefits of the first three, but also enabled the application of novel machine-learning approaches to an evidence stream that exists in high volume, high velocity, high variety, and differing levels of veracity. In public health and medicine, the emergence of big data capabilities has followed naturally from the expansion of data streams from genome sequencing, protein identification, environmental surveillance, and passive patient sensing. In 2001, the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics published a road map for connecting these evidence streams to each other through a national health information infrastructure. Since then, the road map has spurred national investments in electronic health records (EHRs) and motivated the integration of public surveillance data into analytic platforms for health situational awareness. More recently, the boom in consumer-oriented mobile applications and wireless medical sensing devices has opened up the possibility for mining new data flows directly from altruistic patients. In the broader public communication sphere, the ability to mine the digital traces of conversation on social media presents an opportunity to apply advanced machine learning algorithms as a way of tracking the diffusion of risk communication messages. In addition to utilizing big data for improving the scientific knowledge base in risk communication, there will be a need for health communication scientists and practitioners to work as part of interdisciplinary teams to improve the interfaces to these data for professionals and the public. Too much data, presented in disorganized ways, can lead to what some have referred to as “data smog.” Much work will be needed for understanding how to turn big data into knowledge, and just as important, how to turn data-informed knowledge into action.