By Regina Luttrell
— Syracuse University’s W2O Emerging Insights Lab Signature Study Illuminates New Sources, Pathways in Health Fluency
Finding more information about your personal health or the health of your family has never been more meaningful than over the past year. For many individuals, patients and consumers, the need to address myriad questions and seek out additional areas of interest has become a quest. But in an age when information is ubiquitous and public health is top of mind, a new study on health fluency indicates that the road to such insight is now paved with multiple lanes and involves more than the traditional health care organizations and companies relied on before.
In a social era, the discourse is shifting quickly to include new, diverse voices.
A new, signature study, The Fluency Report: Health Literacy, released today by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and conducted by the Newhouse School’s W2O Emerging Insights Lab (EIL), which I lead, provides some incredible insight on the changing nature of consumer confidence regarding health care and the role of health care companies, marketers and communicators.
The study describes digital health literacy as encompassing a consumer’s understanding of topics such as insurance coverage, disease diagnoses, medication adherence, coordinated care and preventive care. The democratization of information was already changing the way the public sought out information on these topics, but trends accelerated in 2020 as a concrete set of issues dominated the headlines: the COVID-19 pandemic, the presidential election, health care policy, racial divides and equity and access.
The purpose of the research was to better understand consumer conversations occurring in the health space to comprehend the level and depth of knowledge and factual understanding leading to better solutions for individual and societal health outcomes. The EIL conducted the study with Real Chemistry (formerly W2O), a global health innovation company and long-standing partner with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Employing both digital and social research models to ascertain what online audiences were interested in, discussing/debating and concerned about, we were able to highlight key data that resonated. Additionally, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning allowed the research team to analyze text and identify themes.
Among key findings of the report:
- Democratization of information and the plethora of social and digital platforms has led consumers to turn to a wider variety of health care sources. They now seek out authoritative sources for information about well-defined health care issues but use social media and crowdsourcing for information about less-understood topics and more authentic dialogue.
- Consumers view search and earned media as a “tell me” interaction, and social media as a “talk with me” interaction. They crave engagement and conversation, rather than the pushing of information.
- Consumers are looking for diverse voices who can speak authentically to historically underserved populations. They don’t always see companies as the best spokesperson but want companies to play the role of “creator and convener” and help elevate the spokespeople they value and trust.
- Consumers consider themselves to be their own best health care advocates and will disregard sources that don’t respect and work with that perspective.
Given all the noise and misinformation regarding health, consumers are looking for authentic, trusted voices who speak to them and look like them. This leads to surrounding oneself with company data, influencer input, opinion and personal stories to round out one’s education.
This search for diverse voices means that health care organizations need to recalibrate their communications to fit into a consumer’s prism.
About the author
Gina Regina Luttrell, Ph.D., is the associate dean for research and creative activity and the director of the W2O Emerging Insights Lab at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.