By Lori Geckle, OTSG Strategic Risk Communication Specialist & Valecia L. Dunbar, D.M., Army Medicine Public Affairs
SAN ANTONIO - Army Medicine has implemented health risk communication practices over the past year that have helped foster an environment of enhanced partnerships. The command position for health risk communication in 2014 will be to increase senior leader and subject-matter-expert understanding of, and support for, partnership-based risk communication and application of more evidence-based communication principles that benefit all patients, and supports the Army’s vision of a more “Ready and Resilient” force.
“Army Medicine must lead the way in changing our communication culture to become more innovative, audience-focused, and collaborative,” said Col. (Dr.) Jerome Buller, director of communications U.S. Army Medical Command. “We’ve seen the rate and volume of information rapidly increase over the past decade. This global and multi-platform communications context is leading the way in how we interpret partnerships. We must be engaged at all levels, invite ourselves to be a part of the discussion, and partner with all audiences.”
Evidence-based communication principles are those founded on academic research and/ or real-world application of methods proven to contribute to communication success.
Establishing partnerships with third-party experts or with those who have been impacted by complex or challenging risks has been proven to lead to more effective decisions that are supported by a broader audience and demonstrated transparency in the process.
Risk communication, a key element in an evidence-based risk management approach, helps foster mutual trust so that communication needs can be met, expectations can be more realistically shaped, and Army Medicine can be better poised to solve the health care challenges of the future.
When integrated throughout the life of an issue or project, risk communication establishes a “bank account of good will” that can then be drawn upon when challenges arise. For example, maintaining positive relationships with beneficiaries can facilitate a more speedy recovery from a crisis event; minimize the potential damage from a crisis; and in some cases, avert a crisis altogether.
Further, organizations such as the Institute of Medicine and the Joint Commission have specifically addressed the principle of collaborative communication in the clinical setting.
Skillful clinical communication (e.g., listening skills, empathy, and the use of open-ended questions) “tends to increase patient involvement and adherence to recommended therapy; influence patient satisfaction, adherence, and health care utilization; and improve quality of care and health outcomes” (see references, below). Increased application of evidence-based communication principles will over time help strengthen Army Medicine as a leader in health care communication.
Technology is leading the way in how risk communication messages are shaped and delivered. As news and information travels in real time, Army Medicine is engaged in new media technologies and traditional formats to reach audiences around the globe in their preferred medium. Embracing these new media technologies helps reinforce an evidence-based system of two-way communication that is vital to increasing the effectiveness of messages, and in meeting the communication needs of all audiences.
This risk communication concept is also embodied in Army Medicine’s efforts to build partnerships with academic, government, and corporate experts to combat health risks associated with military health issues, such as behavioral health (BH) and suicides.
Through Army Medicine’s efforts, our partnership with the National Football League (NFL) is supporting the fight to raise awareness of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and associated risks to include reducing associated stigma in seeking care. This partnership has brought the risks of concussions and related injuries into the forefront of public conversation; broadened our approach to TBI diagnosis and treatment; and positioned Army Medicine as a national leader in the fight against TBI. As a result of this partnership, funding for TBI research and resources has increased, allowing for expanded communication about the health risks individuals may face after a head injury or severe trauma.
Another initiative based on principles of risk communication is the Army surgeon general’s Performance Triad, a long-term, behind-the-scenes effort to improve the health of patients through better choices about sleep, activity, and nutrition (SAN). The success of this program requires a full partnership between the Army Medicine team, soldiers, families, civilians, leaders and the communities in which we live.
As the Performance Triad becomes more ingrained into the Army culture, health and wellness become the focus, not health care.
Transitioning from a health care system that focuses on treatment within the Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) to a System For Health (SFH) that reaches into the “LifeSpace” of beneficiaries, is a great opportunity to improve the health of the Army and of our Nation. The LifeSpace refers to the amount of time in one’s life that isn’t spent with a health care provider. Additionally, improving health reduces preventable diseases and will greatly reduce spiraling health care costs.
Army Medicine will continue to prescribe new ways to communicate health and wellness risks that will enable people to personally make positive life choices. The key to effective risk communication is to embrace key audiences – supporters and detractors alike, as true partners in defining the problem and designing the solution.
For more information about the command’s risk communication program, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Communication at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Trust comes from being authentic, and that requires a genuine communication approach. Cultivate deep listening, ask clarifying questions, initiate dialogue, and seek understanding. Demonstrate with your actions that you value the person, and what they say matters.” (Source: Russell, NS. “Fueling Trust and Engagement With Five Communication Practices.” Psychology Today. Feb. 25, 2012, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trustthe-new-workplace-currency/201202/fueling-trust-engagement-fivecommunication-practices)
References: The Joint Commission (Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient- and Family-Centered Care (2010); The Institute of Medicine (Patient-Clinician Communication: Basic Principles and Expectations (2011); Ochsner Journal. Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review (2010).