Health information is a critical component of a healthy community; the people in a country must have access to reliable and right health information. An awareness of health dimensions from reliable sources forms the foundation of a healthy society because it helps the stakeholders to make better decisions. Millions of people in the UK receive health information from multiple sources. There are four major suppliers of health information, i.e. The physicians, health practitioners, health educators and medical authorities; family members and friends; mass media and technical documents; and online resources. From a historical angle, the doctors and local pharmacists were the trusted source of health information (Worsley 1989), and still, they continue to provide health awareness.
Mass media has been an important source of health education, and TV and newspaper are recognized as the prominent supplier of health information. The researchers have classified the mass media into two with respect to health information i.e. information-oriented and entertainment-oriented (Dutta-Bergman 2005). Information-oriented media include magazines, weekly, newspapers, etc. and are believed to carry more convincing information. The entertainment-oriented media such as television, radio, movies, etc. are considered as less credible because they display scenes that are obviously unhealthy. For examples, scenes that feature alcohol consumption, smoking behaviour etc. are unhealthy. The public acknowledges that television as a prime mass media agent that brings health information to their homes. Also, many viewers and health practitioners agree that entertainment television also influences their awareness about health (Marder, K., 1997). Many health professionals have shared their experiences with patients who have raised health issues that were themed in the television shows.
Along with health professionals, family members are also accepted as providers of health education. Many citizens consider family as one of the most trusted sources of health insights, especially in deciding about the treatment (Johnson et al 1992). Many service seekers have disclosed that family members also help to reduce anxiety and uncertainty, and resolve person-centred issues. The co-workers and friends also are deliverers of health literacy; the story narratives of the friends and coworkers in informal settings create an opportunity to exchange health information (Lee 2010). Social influence is observed to be prominent in taking steps to resolve health issues and acquire healthy habits.
In the last couple of decades, citizens have begun to actively seek health information through the internet. Unlimited information about health is available on the internet that most educated population use online search as the first choice in gathering health information (Dutta-Bergman 2005). There are millions of pages on health-related issues hosted by government bodies, researchers, health practitioners, health service institutions, social activists, educational institutions, research databases, and patients’ personal logs. In the current scenario, the health information is abundant on the internet, mass media and people around us.
There are many stakeholders for the activity of spreading health information, the government bodies, health organizations; advocacy groups, educationists and researchers, media houses, etc. are engaged in communication of health information. They utilize various techniques to highlight their health concerns, achievements, and medical evidence so that the target segment can comprehend, retain and apply the information better. A review of the health communication literature indicates that there is no formal framework or set methodology to disseminate health information. However, there are key techniques used by the stakeholders in the health sector. The techniques are about crafting the message, adapting the message to suit the audience, infusing interesting content into the message, and framing the message to make the receiver get into action. For example, Print media and internet is effective to communicate well-crafted messages (Noar et al 2007).
Dissemination is the spread of information and program resources to a specific segment or target population. A variety of channels and social contexts are available to spread health information. The goal of communication strategy should be to reach out to as many people as possible, call target people for action, and help to improve their ability to apply the information in their lives (Lomas1993). Researchers have found that active dissemination strategies are effective than passive communication (Greenhalgh et al 2004).
In order to increase the effectiveness of the communication about health, the messages must be crafted to promote beliefs in the people that they can exert control over their disease and disabilities (Bandura 1990). It is observed that beliefs about capabilities and outcomes affect the behaviour especially in taking initiatives to resolve the health issues. The information content also must reinforce the belief that that perseverance in efforts to overcome the disability is required to achieve success i.e. try until the goal is achieved. Another important aspect that influences the patient behaviour is that the message communicated must be through a highly credible source (O’Keeffe et al 1990) i.e. the patient must have faith in the person who communicates the health information.
The primary aim of health information through mass media is to increase the awareness and knowledge of health issues among the population. Though the internet is emerging as the primary source of medical information, the media still has relevance and capability to influence people’s behaviour. Information with conclusive evidence reach ordinary citizens through the mass media, hence their explanations about the health issues are important and vital (Chapman et al 2005). The newspaper, television, health magazines and internet together with has the potential to carve awareness and habits of health among the citizens.
The audience of mass media news in health science includes ordinary citizens, researchers, medical professionals, government authorities, and advocacy representatives. These health news consumers are influenced by the tone, style, content and quality of the news published in the media, and each type of audience has different perspectives about health. Hence, the media must somehow convey in their news coverage for whom this news is meant for.
The question-answer column dedicated to resolving health issues have relevance even now, and it influences many audiences in picking up healthy habits and taking initiatives to solve health issues. From a generalized perspective, there is evidence also that people read health-related issues more than any other topic. Including headings that can give punch to the readers is a way to drive attitude formation and changing health behaviours. Even without reading the contents of the news, the readers can get the gist of the matter.
How the health information is treated in the media presentation affects the attitude and behaviour of the readers. The media must present the news in a positive light, appreciate the curative possibilities of the topic, direct right behaviour, and highlight the preventable causes of the disease or disability. Karpf (1988) mentioned these suggestions as relevant while comparing the health news of UK and USA.
Health information is useful to people and it can empower them to take health decisions. Because of the abundance of health information in the media, it can pose challenges to people. Contradictory information and a large pool of knowledge can confuse the readers and nullify the benefits of modern technology. It is important for the readers to segregate the reliable and valid knowledge from spurious and superfluous content. Because the perspectives on health are constantly changing, the readers need to refer the reliable sources often to gain the right information. There is no standard way to ascertain the validity of the health information but two important steps can help the information seekers to increase the chances of following authentic information.
Scientific journals will have authors and the publishers name printed on the document. This information is enough to further carry out the confirmation search. If a patient is unfamiliar with the author and publisher, he/she may ask a health care professional or friend about their credentials. Google and other search engines are also helpful resources to know more about the authors. Many ordinary people have the intelligence and common sense to understand the genuineness of the information presented.
The journal can be segregated as peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed journals are superior because the publication has undergone a thorough check from the experts in the field.
While following health information, its authenticity should be established by parallel evidence from the scientific circles, and practitioners. Information acknowledged by the experts and matches with the personal experience is likely to be genuine. The second source of establishing the candidness of the information is to check, how the conclusion is made i.e. the process undertaken by the reporter in establishing the truth. A reader must be able to distinguish between facts and opinions. Facts are observed truths and can be verified by empirical means, while opinions are influenced by the interpretations of the reporter. It is better to rely on factual information and rational conclusion. Following other’s interpretation and opinions may not be favourable to the desired outcomes.
It should be noted that sometimes information from credible sources also could be confusing; this is because there is no conclusive way to approach the health issue. In times of ill-defined issues, it is better to use the personal capacity to judge and gain support from the significant people around. In situations where demand for profound decisions is present, it is better to consult multiple (reliable) sources of information.
Researchers have observed that increased knowledge base and availability of resources such as qualified care professionals, service infrastructure, etc. alone will not lead to a higher quality of health care. The way the delivery of the service is organized determines to a large extent the outcome of the service. It is surprising to note that economically advanced countries who invest considerably high in health care do not achieve better results than in lower economic nations (Leatherman & Sutherland 2004). The identified reason for the lower quality of care is attributed to the method of organizing the delivery of service. The care regulatory organizations suggest the institutions adopt systems perspective.
In order to make productive changes to health care operations, the quality of health care delivery has to be monitored. But the challenge is the service is an intangible offer and cannot be measured in quantitative terms; qualitative approach needs to be applied. The qualitative assessments have to rely on subjective judgments of the people.
In order to overcome the difficulties in quality assessment of the care, Joss and Kogan (1995), has suggested dividing the service along the three dimensions of quality i.e. technical, systemic and generic. Technical quality is about the work-content associated with the health domain such as dementia, terminal illness, disability care etc. Systemic quality is associated with systems and processes in completing the service. And, the third dimension is generic quality, which is about interpersonal relationships and communications in the work setting. refers to quality aspects that involve interpersonal relationships. The researchers have identified that often patients are likely to perceive the generic quality (such as care facilities, cleanliness, the behaviour of the care professional, speed of recovery, etc.) as the most important while evaluating the service.
Based on the information from the practitioners and the researchers, health service quality can be assessed in two basic dimensions.
The aspiration to provide a higher quality of service has led to the practice of using patient feedback surveys, and its frequency of usage is increasing. Involving patients into quality assessments has various implications. First of all, it will empower both cars as well as patients. Both have to work closely and participate in the care service and take a decision to bring favourable outcomes. However, there are certain legal obligations on the part of caregiver and the institution that put constraints on the involvement of the patient in quality assessment. Certain processes and structures need to be developed to meet legal obligations and accommodate patient involvement. Asking patients to evaluate the quality of service (only the generic dimension) is complex, a high degree of empathy and social skill is required to interpret the patient responses. Various challenges in the form of conflicts, time constraints, subjectivity, biases, etc. may discourage engaging patients in quality matters.
Incorporating patients’ experiences into the evaluation of the care can be an interesting addition. Many practitioners have accepted that patient’s perspective s can be valuable in developing and improving care services. As we have discussed earlier, in order to fill the gap in the organized delivery of services, the patient’s account of experience is valuable. It can overcome the fragmented nature of the health care system. The individual narrative or focus group analysis may be the tool to gather information from the users. This exercise of listening to patient storylines is likely to provide insights into the quality of service.
Advances in health system definitely have given better control and management of diseases and disorders, if not a complete cure to the health issues. The life expectancy has been increasing in most of the countries. The number of people surviving with chronic illness has increased and older people receive better treatment for their health issues. However, there is an increase in the number of patients with chronic health diseases, which suggests that the quality of health has been reduced. The health care system has improved but the health of people has decreased. People’s exposure to factors that can cause disease also has increased. The consequences of such exposures may lead to mass health problems in future.
Even today, health care still revolves around acute diseases and is reactive to ill episodes. Also, it is ill-equipped to tackle the needs of diverse medical problems. For example, many chronic conditions are allowed to remain without providing treatment. This sometimes surges to serious complications and acute manifestations (McGlynn et al 2003). In this scenario, the relevance of health care systems is on the rise, and society as a whole must involve in improving the health of the citizens. The trend shows that more people are likely to avail health care at least once in their lifetime. Because of the increasing health problems among all ages of the population, it is placing a huge burden on the economics and social relationships. The current health system has to work in collaboration with departments of food service, family, environment, etc. to offer an integrated service. The health care system must move from the curing process to prevention measures, and a paradigm shift is required. The goal of health care must not be a cure but improve human functionality, minimize the chances of irritating symptom, prolong life with enhanced quality of life. Effective measures with right resources are required to meet future challenges. The configuration of resources would include (competent staff, medical technology, advanced pharma chemistry and preventive health knowledge base) can be assembled in the right place at the right time, while establishing support and incentives for everyone to work together to achieve this shared aim.
There is abundant information about health and health care, and there are sophisticated professionals to provide health services. But the delivery of health care services is still fragmented. The current challenges should be addressed by developing new paradigms and expanding the scope of functioning of the health care systems.
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