An Executive Director’s Take on Medical Communication

Credit: APFED

When you hear the term medical communication what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe you are thinking of patient advocacy, or the mediums that go along with the field… The field of medical communication is made up of a vast array of mediums, tools and positions that help to facilitate patient advocacy. The digital space is one way in which we can help to close the gap; however, the field needs more medical communicators to help meet those needs. Similarly, medical communicators must be detailed orientated, fluent in technical skills and aware of medical literacy and patient needs.

In today’s spotlight which is the second in the series, I am talking to the Executive Director for The American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED), Mary Jo Strobel. Strobel has been dedicated to the field from the start and educates us on importance of the field in this Q & A.

Key: Bold: Michaella Non-Bold: Mary Jo Strobel

Medical communication is a critical component to patient advocacy how do you feel your role has helped to support that bridge for APFED and its community?

“I have a background in editorial and publishing and have been working in patient advocacy and related communications for more than 22 years. As such, these communication skills help bridge the gap between patients and doctors/researchers. In addition to engaging with patients directly, I also engage with health care providers from a variety of different disciplines – allergy, gastroenterology, pathology, psychology, dietetics, and many more –, research investigators, drug developers, government agencies, and the lawmakers. I am able to share with each group some of the perspectives, challenges, and barriers that the other groups face so that all sides have a better understanding of each other.”

What do you feel are the most essential factors for digital patient advocacy? Do you feel that the online space is an effective tool to use to produce this type of content/support for patients? For example (digital fact sheets, online support groups, use of social media, videos, virtual conferences and more)?

“Online space is absolutely an effective tool to produce support/content for patients. It gives you the ability to promote your message or resources to a broad audience very quickly, who can then in turn help disseminate the information and increase the reach. The most essential factors in digital advocacy include knowing your audiences and nuances of the platform you are using, the overall strategy you will employ on that platform, tools to create materials that will help you visually stand out and sharing content from related sources.”

What are the pitfalls to digital advocacy? What are the benefits?

“Digital advocacy campaigns can be very effective because you have a variety of platforms to reach different audiences very quickly. There are so many digital tools available to support a campaign or organize grassroot efforts. You can also engage with supporters in new ways and empower them by putting resources at their fingertips. Finally, it gives you an opportunity to monitor your progress in real-time. The downside is ‘digital fatigue.’ Users get a great deal of information very quickly through social media and emails, and it can make your message more difficult to stand out. Ultimately, it is important to choose the right digital tools, which key messages to promote, and how-to effectiveness will be measured.”

When looking at APFED what mediums/genres do you use to make up your digital space?

“We use mainstream large social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. We also host a virtual patient support community on the Inspire network, and we have an email subscribership and website. Whenever possible, we cross promote the platforms and resources.”

What would you like to see done in the field of medical communication to help better the field and overall success?

“Freely accessible lay-friendly summaries of published research to help patients, families, and those without medical backgrounds put the findings into context. Stabilized and more user-friendly ways to manage social media. Tools for businesses on social media and constantly evolving, and it’s hard to stay up to date, especially for nonprofits. Each platform has their nuances and image size requirements. It’s time consuming when you are disseminating information and have to create unique content for each platform. Some platforms also have a monetized structure, whereas you can pay to have your message show up in more feeds. This can put charities at a disadvantage.”

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