Better Ways to Communicate Risk
When public health incidents like the H1N1 influenza make the headlines, effective communication between experts, decision makers and the public is essential to ensure everyone is well prepared to respond to the situation. The goal is to communicate risk in an appropriate fashion. Many lessons were learned from H1N1 that need to be incorporated into public health practice the next time something similar happens.
Dr. Michelle Driedger, Canada Research Chair in Environment and Health Risk Communication, is examining how health risks are communicated in situations of uncertainty. These are situations in which experts do not have all the answers but policy decisions about health still have to be made to best protect the public. Driedger is examining the roles that trust and uncertainty play in how risks are communicated. She is also looking at how knowledge and evidence are translated from experts to other experts, decision-makers and the public.
Measuring the success of health risk communication is a major challenge. Success is often measured by how many people adopted the recommendations that were provided. However, Driedger believes people should be given plain language information about health risks and recommendations so they can make decisions about what is best for them. That’s why her research involves accessing and learning from the perspectives of both decision-makers and community members.
Driedger’s research will improve understanding of what does or does not work in risk communication so that conflicts are minimized among audiences the next time there’s a public health incident.