Researchers outline COVID-19 communication strategies for health professionals

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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has introduced unique challenges for public health practitioners and health communicators that warrant an expansion of existing health communication principles to take into consideration, according to new guidelines published in the journal Public Health Research & Practice.

For the study, researchers from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy outlined a checklist for the implementation of COVID-19 communication strategies to move from the acute phase of the pandemic to what they refer to as the "next normal."

One of the major challenges that has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic is the increasing amount of false content circulating on social media platforms. The spread of misinformation relating to a potential vaccine for the disease, even well before a vaccine is available for public use, is particularly concerning, the authors said.

Rumors of safety scares and conspiracies relating to a COVID-19 vaccine have swirled throughout social media, leading to social media outlets taking active measures to limit misinformation. These measures, although important, have not prevented a saturated information system nor blocked harmful misinformation from undermining science-backed sources. These features of the media environment and the way people engage with the news call for a revision of the risk communication guidance during a public health crisis, according to the study.

The researchers identified three general areas of capacity building for health communication during the pandemic: the need for communicators to be proactive and to take preventive actions at times; the importance of planning ahead while also acknowledging the unpredictability of the situation; and the call to focus on people.

The checklist for health communicators is made up of five objectives: set shared goals, establish coordinated response, devise a communication strategy, implement the communication plan, and be ready to adapt.

The researchers said It is critical that health communicators worldwide are more proactive in tackling risk communication challenges related to COVID-19, with likely prevention achieved through vaccination and societal COVID-19 resilience.

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.