Health Risk Communication and Media

Health Risk Communication and Media

Banu Kumbasar
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6825-5.ch008
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Risk communication is a concept defined by many organizations like World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effective risk communication is a complex process. It is an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions. Risk communication is part of the risk management process, with the primary aims to promote awareness and understanding of risks. In the risk management process, risk communication is at the center. There are a number of approaches to the process of risk communication and its components, including how messages are sent and received. The management of public health outbreaks has always included a specific communication component in the form of warnings, risk messages, evacuation notifications, messages regarding self-efficacy, information regarding symptoms, and medical treatment, among many others. Media can play a significant role for raising awareness of the health issues. But the difficulty is to find the right channel of communication for the target audience.
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Risk is used to signify negative consequences. Risk communication deals with risk elements. It is the act of conveying information between parties about levels of health or environmental risks, the significance or meaning of health or environmental risks, or decisions, actions, or policies aimed at managing or controlling health or environmental risks. Risk commnication is at the core of the risk management process. Risk management process consists of five stages: risk identification, risk assessment, policy development, policy implementation and policy evaluation. For all these stages communication is the main part of the risk management process. Effective risk communication is a complex process and for risk communication strategies some factors matter: build trust; announce early; be transparent; respect public concerns; and plan in advance. Establishing trust with the public is the most critical aspect of effective risk communication. Trust is hard to build and easy to erode. There are many interested parties in the risk communication process. Interested parties include government agencies, corporations and industry groups, unions, the media, scientists, professionals organizations, public interest groups, and individual citizens.

There are also some approaches to risk communication. Each approach views risk communication from a slightly different perspective. The main approaches to risk communication are: Communication Process approach, National Research Council’s approach, Mental Models approach, Mental Noise approach, Hazard Plus Outrage approach, Social Amplification of Risk approach, Social Trust approach, Evolutionary Theory Approach, Health Belief Model approach, Crisis Management approach. All the theories explain the underlying structures of risk communication.

Difficulties in communicating risks during infectious disease outbreaks include: the complexity of the disease pathophysiology and epidemiology; the capacity for individual actions to influence the health of others. Media has a huge role in communicating risks during communicable diseases. But the difficulty is to find the right channel of communication for each audience. One channel may not be appropriate for all. When target audiences have been defined, it is necessary to choose the channels that are most likely to reach the audiences. The mass media can deliver the information quickly to a wide audience but can’t alone be expected to motivate people to change their behaviours. New channels for risk communication are developed in the last few years. The most rapidly growing channel is internet. Contrasted with traditional media where users are passive recipients, social media provides an interactive platform. Blogs, microblogs, video sharing platforms, photo sharing platforms, social network websites, discussion forums can be listed among social media. The important part of communicating risk information is message design. In message desing some elements should be considered. These elements are: clarity, consistency, credibility, public need, tone and appeal.

In this chapter, basic concepts and processes related to risk communication are explained. However, the risk communication process is also discussed from a theoretical perspective.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Outbreak: Sudden rise in the number of cases of a infectious disease.

Expert: A person who has a great deal of knowledge.

Health Crisis: An emerging situation which affects people.

Trust: Belief in the realibility and the truth.

Risk Communication: Exchange of information about risks between experts and people facing threats.

Risk: The possibility of an adverse situation or event occuring.

Pandemic: An epidemic occuring over a huge area, across the world, affecting a large number of population.

Risk Management: The process of identifying, assessing, and controlling threats.

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