As flu spreads, health care pros cast a wide net of information

Influenza is hitting hard this year, putting health care communicators’ efforts in the spotlight. Savvy professionals blend updates with advice—and even a little branding.

Health care communicators are using multiple formats to warn the public about the flu epidemic.

Employing everything from tweets to YouTube videos, they’re scrambling to communicate information faster than people can communicate the disease itself.

UChicago Medicine has taken a multimedia approach, augmenting a post on its blog “Welcome to the Forefront,” with an engaging infographic with a comic book feel.

Ashley Heher, assistant director of media relations, composed the blog, in which she quotes Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist on staff at UChicago Medicine:

“In order to make you sick, influenza has to get in your nose or mouth,” Landon said. “And the only way you get influenza in your nose or mouth is if you put it there because it’s on your hands or someone sneezes it there.”

The doctor provides advice, as well as information:

“Give yourself distance when someone is sneezing,” Landon said. “Even leaning back when someone sneezes can make a difference.”

With more and more people doing online searches about health issues—especially concerning the flu as the epidemic widens—having an authoritative blog at the public’s fingertips highlights the hospital’s credibility and expertise.

In addition, the single-panel infographic helps people identify symptoms to determine whether they’ve got the flu or just a nasty cold. It’s highly shareable for communicators and the public alike. Conveniently, it includes the hospital’s branding at the bottom.

Getting the word out

Across the country, health care professionals are working to push information out to their communities.

The website of Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tennessee, for example, offers advice for staying healthy, including:

  • Frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or use your arm (and avoid using your hand).
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home often.
  • Drink plenty of fluids for hydration.
  • Take over-the-counter medicine for symptoms, and visit your primary care provider if you feel the need to do so.

Warnings and possibilities

Doctors are also discussing patients’ options, and video is an ideal format for making a personal connection.

Here’s Dr. Shaun Jayakar of St. John Hospital in St. Clair Shores, Michigan:

Jayakar is an able, friendly spokesperson, communicating the threat the disease poses but also offering hope. “If you start having breathing difficulties, you may very well be having primary influenza/pneumonia,” he says. “At that point, you should go to the ER.”

He also points out that with an early diagnosis, medication can ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.

Scope of the outbreak

Meanwhile, government agencies are tasked with gathering and disseminating data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took to its 750,000-follower, flu-specific Twitter account:

It’s also holding a Facebook Q&A with the hashtag #fightflu:

Others use graphic elements to document scope and severity of the outbreak.

This map, from the Mama Doc blog on the Seattle Children’s website, outlines the spread of the flu in the United States:

At the local level, Crain’s Chicago Business noted in an online article the impact the unusually strong outbreak is having on Windy City hospitals:

Last week, from Jan. 7 to Jan. 13, Loyola University Medical Center set a new flu activity record with 190 lab-confirmed cases recorded in a single week, compared with 100 confirmed cases in the busiest week in February 2017.

In all, 3,551 Loyola patients have been tested for flu, and 730 diagnosed flu-positive since the official start of the season on Oct. 1. This season’s numbers already surpass the total number of confirmed cases from the previous flu season.

“It looks like we have the worst flu season in a decade, and it’s not over yet,” said Dr. Jorge Parada, medical director of Loyola Medicine’s infection prevention and control program.

Communicators, what’s your hospital or organization doing to get the word out about staying safe and healthy during this epidemic? How are you tying that in with your branding efforts?

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