Enhancing public health communication

How can governments and public health authorities improve communication during public health emergencies?

Dr Rebecca Ryan has led a Cochrane Review to understand how governments and public health authorities can better communicate with communities during public health emergencies.

A Cochrane Review is a systematic review of all the available evidence on a particular topic or research question.

“During a public health emergency, clear communication can improve how people follow protective measures to keep themselves safe, and good communication by governments and health authorities is an essential part of the public health response to a pandemic,” says Dr Ryan.

“Our Cochrane Review, which involved researchers from La Trobe’s Centre for Health Communication and Participation, included 68 studies of communication about physical distancing measures such as contact tracing, avoiding crowds, isolating and quarantine.”

Dr Ryan and her team identified six main findings that may help governments and other authorities make decisions about public health communication during a pandemic or other public health emergency.

“These findings include the importance of strengthening trust and countering misinformation, involving communities in planning communication strategies and outputs, ensuring communication is accessible and tailored for diverse communities, and providing practical supports to help people to follow public health advice.”

The review also identified gaps in pandemic communication research.

“These gaps include how people at higher risk of getting severely sick or dying from COVID-19 can be communicated and supported, barriers to implementing public communication, and protective measures in low- and middle-income countries.”