Communicating health messages post-COVID
This Kaizo Live we explore communicating health messages in a post-pandemic world with Dr. Sonal Shah, NHS GP, lifestyle medicine expert and growing healthcare influencer. Hear insights on the changes in healthcare messaging, how information is shared, the role of the expert, the issue of misinformation and how health communication will evolve at a local level. As a qualified lifestyle physician, Dr. Shah is interested in helping patients with issues regarding their sleep, diet and exercise. She is active on social media and runs the Living Well GP blog, advocating that we can all make better positive, lifelong changes through understanding our bodies, mind and health.
Dr Shah explains that the biggest challenges facing communities and patients in 2020 has been the phenomenal impact of the pandemic, which has hit communities extremely hard, causing loneliness and social isolation among the vulnerable population. The loss of support networks for these individuals has often led to the worsening of conditions, both physically and mentally. The ever-changing and conflicting messaging during the pandemic has caused much confusion and distrust in healthcare information. As a result, people are increasingly weary and cautious of the information that they are receiving.
Dr. Shah outlines the changes in communications in general practice, where in-person appointments have adapted to e-consults and telephone consultations. These changes were implemented almost overnight, allowing for increased accessibility and safeguarding the community. Technology has also been used as a way to educate patients, for instance following up appointments with a text to patients which provides NHS guidance and evidence-based information to communicate in an empowering way. Looking at health in a broader holistic sense, Dr. Shah is currently leading on a primary care project where she is working with the local council, public health and volunteers to look at new ways to provide people with tools on how to help themselves and make lifestyle changes.
With the positive power of social media, there is also the challenge of misinformation, where the rise of influencers promoting false information has become rampant. Dr. Shah is passionate in challenging misinformation and ensuring that people are receiving the correct health messaging, where they can be well informed and make decisions for themselves. She uses social media to showcase her life as a working mum in a relatable way, sharing evidence-based health information and how it can be applied practically in real life.
Dr. Shah raises the point that there is a huge disconnect in understanding the medical jargon being delivered by white, upper-class, middle-aged experts in central government, which is leaving certain populations in the UK, particularly deprived and BAME communities, with a lack of clarity which often leads to misconceptions. She is looking to tackle this issue by organising local advocates, such as local doctors, to deliver local health messages and information, in the right way to ensure diverse and vulnerable communities are being reached.
When asked what she would like to change about health communications, Dr. Shah urges messaging to be clear, consistent and evidence-based. Also for the information to be delivered in a relatable and accessible way that doesn’t tell people what to do, but instead give them the tools to help them make decisions for themselves.