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Keck, Annenberg schools map plan to improve public health

To improve the delivery of effective health information to the public and create a national model for health communication, the Keck School of Medicine of USC is forming a partnership with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

“The Department of Preventive Medicine of the Keck School of Medicine and the Annenberg School for Communication are nationally recognized for their leadership in their fields. The Annenberg School for Communication has expertise in delivering messages to diverse audiences and through diverse media. The combination of these strengths will equip us to have a major impact in health communications,” said Stephen J. Ryan, dean of the Keck School of Medicine.

At a March 24 meeting, Ryan led the discussion on collaboration with Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the Annenberg School, along with C. Anderson Johnson, the Sidney Garfield Professor of Preventive Medicine and director of the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research, and Peter Clarke, a leading faculty member and professor of the Annenberg School and director for the Center for Health and Medical Communication.

The collaboration aims to capitalize on the medical expertise and community outreach experience of the Keck School combined with the public communications strengths of the Annenberg School and the Center for Health Promotion.

Cowan, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, commented that the collaboration has deep roots: “The Annenberg School has had a major role in health communication, including millions of dollars in grants. Andy Johnson, Peter Clarke and I have spent two years working on a Center for Health and Medical Communication, which Peter directs.”

Johnson said that “We need to recognize that many of the most important health and medical issues ought to be addressed at the community level, especially in a place like L.A. with so many diverse populations and languages. Often, by the time a person shows up in a clinic the medical problem is far advanced. So it’s far better to use effective communication strategies to target and reach whole populations in the communities where they reside.”

Noting that different ethnic groups often require specialized strategies to make health information useful and pertinent to them, Clarke added that “communications strategies need to be more sophisticated.”

For example, Latinos often respond best to health messages that focus on the family’s welfare whereas Caucasians tend to respond best to messages that focus on personal responsibility for good health.

Clarke said that the partners “looked at areas we could all work together and our consensus was that diabetes represents a prime target because its effects can be prevented and controlled if only the target audiences receive the proper information in a form that they can use.”

Because the health risks of diabetes are disproportionately large for the poor and certain ethnic groups–especially African-Americans, Latinos and Asiansthe plan calls for creating messages especially targeting each group to bolster their effectiveness.

Clarke said the partners will assess what works with current informational campaigns then develop a more focused communication strategy based on those findings: “It’s clear that either what’s known about diabetes isn’t diffusing into the general public or that what we know now about how to communicate and persuade is unequal to the challenge of the disease.”

Providing the public with medical information is merely part of the battle. It must be provided in a manner that engages the target audience and gets them to change their behavior, he said.

Ryan added that, “With an outstanding diabetes group in the Keck School, including Rich Bergman, Tom Buchanan, Peter Butler and other diabetologists, and a group of significant investigators, colleagues and other departments working on issues related to diabetes, we have an excellent group to collaborate in the manner that Peter Clarke and Geoff Cowan described.”

The partners will meet again in June to further develop the concepts behind health communications for diabetes prevention and public awareness.

Keck, Annenberg schools map plan to improve public health

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