Health Communicators need to embrace big data for impactful campaigns

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to attend one of those professional health conferences. The event, organized by MYDAWA (a new e-drugstore start-up) was aimed at sensitizing health practitioners (mostly doctors) on tackling medical prescription risks and ensuring patient safety.

Though overshadowed by the doctors’ strike, the symposium saw significant representation from physicians across the country. Key speakers were drawn from the Kenya Medical Association (KMA), Daktari Afrika and the Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (KAPI).

Despite concrete interventions, it was interesting to learn how prescription errors (mostly from handwriting) are still prevalent in dispensing of wrong medicines. The reality that a prescription error may harm you (what doctors delicately refer to as preventable A.D.E’s or adverse drug events) resulting to permanent disability or even death, was even more startling.

Retrospective estimates show that the number of prescription with errors appear to remain constant during the months of January (25%), February (26.22%), March (21.43%) and April (27.44%). As a solution and with proper relevant investments; doctors were encouraged to select medications from an onscreen list and send the prescription data digitally to the pharmacy.

In essence, this transformation would mean moving away from paper based records to electronic format (e-prescribing). Statistically, its adoption will result in a reduction of at least 66% of medical prescription errors. What’s more, the electronic prescriptions will automatically be saved for future reference–as part of the patients’ records. This concept further opened the discussion into how the health sector can push the technology frontier–with reference to big data.

“Health care is becoming more digitized and consumer oriented. It’s not an overnight change, but more like how summer turns into fall – gradual yet very perceptible.” – Greg Scott, Principal, Deloitte Consulting

Big data
According to IDC, the top five data generating industries are – financial services, communications and media, manufacturing, education and healthcare. It is no wonder that there has been an explosion of medical disruptive technologies such as telemedicine, e-health and m-health that somehow leverage on big data. The participants stressed the importance of these innovative technologies–adding that technological investment ought to be included in government healthcare finances.

But much as the health sector requires big data; the need for communicators to tap into it, to boost their health campaigns, can’t be overlooked. Locally, the Kenyan media has progressively embarked on data journalism; whereby, they use big data to raise awareness about health failures. In turn, the public is able to demand quality systems and results.

The linkage between big data, media and health-related social behavior change makes Kenya an ideal case study–especially with regard to the devolved system of government. A key concern especially with counties is whether they are able to surmount health challenges by properly allocating more money towards health.

A previous survey by a health journalist revealed most counties were budgeting less on health than what they had been offered by the national government-the previous year. Similarly, a project dubbed politics of health which was carried out before the 2013 presidential elections run up–highlighted fallacious promises of universal healthcare. The stark reality was and still is that there aren’t enough nurses, doctors, nurses or facilities for universal healthcare.
As evidenced in the two cases the media used data to help the public paint a clear picture of the health realities. Most importantly, it was a step in helping drive conversations as audiences link this information to that of public health campaigns, and stories that speak to the individual impact of health policies and decision.

“If health communicators today aren’t thinking along the lines on how to integrate, not just use as a tool to promote, but integrate programs and educational or informational resources around the pill and the bottle, you will be left behind.” – Amber Kohler, Vice President, Kilte PR

By tapping into aggregate data, communications executives can power their media relations, thereby impacting on bottom lines of brands they represent. In the final analysis, it won’t be about mere stories, but how data impacts the public–a key feature that is and should be understood by communication executives and journalists globally.

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