The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently highlighted the foundational benefit of knowing and involving your audience when developing clear, innovative health communications. Here are 2 excerpts from recent CDC publications that capture these benefits:
Know your target audience: “The more you know about your primary segment, the better you can reach them with messages. Your up-front research should include understanding the needs and wants of the target audience on a more personal level, and their motivations and lifestyles so you can truly engage with them.”
Involve your target audience: “When members of the target audience participate in designing and testing communications, outcomes are more successful, including those for people with limited health literacy.”
This is not news to us. We have used review panels in all aspects of educational design and program development for the past 20 years.
Our panels include representatives of all people who influence health and business outcomes—such as patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and knowledge leaders who have firsthand experience with a particular condition or treatment.
As a health educator, I can honestly say that I learn something new from every review panelist interaction. Patients and caregivers who are living with health conditions offer a unique perspective. This can also be said for professionals who provide care and education on a daily basis.
A recent story will bring this to life. I was interviewing a patient and nurse separately to better understand why patients were struggling with appropriate use of a medicine when starting a new treatment. The exchange below captures the magic that happens when you involve your audience.
My question to a patient: “So, when did you first hear about your diagnosis?”
Patient: “They told me about the diagnosis, and I didn’t hear anything after that. The doctor and nurse walked me through a pamphlet, but when I got home, I didn’t remember anything they said. To complicate matters, I didn’t actually receive the treatment in the mail for 2 to 3 weeks, so by the time I needed to start treatment, I was anxious and had so many questions.”
My follow-up questions to a nurse: “In talking with patients, we have learned that they feel overwhelmed after hearing their diagnosis and have difficulty in processing the education they receive about their treatment. We also heard that there is a time delay in receiving their treatment, so by the time they start treatment, they are anxious and don’t recall what to expect and what to do. Is that common, and how do you combat this challenge?
Nurse: “Wow—what a great insight! This is so true, but until now I didn’t really give it a thought. I have heard of some offices scheduling a follow-up education session about new treatments when counseling occurs on the same day as hearing difficult news. In terms of the time delay, I wonder if there is a way to call or send e-mails during the delay period to reinforce key things patients need to know and do before starting treatment. It might also help to acknowledge this barrier before educating about a new treatment. I would be happy to review anything you guys develop.”
These vignettes capture the amazing interactions we have with review panelists as we develop our materials and campaigns. They also show the huge void that exists when we do not take the time to know and involve our audience.
Christopher G. Kelly, MEd
Director, Health Education