Photo of six colleagues wearing business casual attire and conference badges in a sunny room.

Group photo at the Society for Health Communication National Summit, June 17-18, 2024, in Arlington, VA. (Courtesy Mark Miller)

Last week, the Society for Health Communication held its 8th annual national summit in Arlington, Virginia, a short metro ride from the de Beaumont offices in Bethesda. Several of our communications staff and close collaborators, including Public Health Communications Collaborative Director Amanda Kwong, attended the conference and welcomed the opportunity to exchange ideas, hear about the latest challenges and opportunities in public health communications, and connect with others in the field.

Here are four insights that drove our team’s reflections after the summit.

AI-authored health content can deliver empathy. Panelists Amelia Burke-Garcia and Rebecca Soskin-Hicks, both of NORC at the University of Chicago, described recent analyses showing the promise of using AI models to deliver accurate health information in an empathetic way. In fact, many users preferred AI-generated heath communications to content generated by physicians for this reason. While AI models can and do generate misinformation, the panelists acknowledged, being strategic about where to place “the human in the loop” in content development processes could help address these issues while taking advantage of what AI can offer.

“Data parties” improve equity and impact. Panelist Chandria Jones, also of NORC, explained the concept of a data party: a dedicated space and opportunity for health data to be shared with the community it’s intended to describe, and to assess whether it actually reflects their lived experience. “Data is a critical part of your story, especially the qualitative data [gleaned from these discussions],” Dr. Jones said. And together, she added, this information forms a fuller and more accurate story to be shared with advocates and decisionmakers. These principles, including the importance of co-creation, struck a chord with our team since they so closely echo the values of our MADE for Health Justice initiative.

Inclusive language goes beyond demographics. In a 20-minute, action-oriented Level-Up session, the Society’s past president Michael Grela and vice president Stacy Robison shared terms to try and terms to avoid to be more inclusive, making the intent of your message the priority. The presenters covered demographic aspects of language inclusivity, including gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and acronyms that span these facets. They also zoomed in on stigmatizing language that can alienate the populations of focus, and the violence-based language that is rampant in many of our idioms and phrases — “take a stab,” “dodge a bullet,” and “jump the gun,” to name a few – but doesn’t have to be.

Cultivating trust matters — especially in emergencies. Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Simbo Ige closed out the summit with a reminder that public health professionals need not lose their humanity in crises. Curbing a measles outbreak that originated in a Chicago migrant shelter earlier this year was a lesson in building trust; Dr. Ige took the time to connect with the people in the shelter, listening to their concerns and assuaging their fears so that they felt more confident about vaccination. Health officials declared an end to the measles outbreak in May, likely due in no small part to the compassion exemplified by Ige and her colleagues.

For more about the National Summit, see highlights from Michael Grela and a photo gallery from the Society.

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