Ken Rabin, PhD, celebrates the Journal of Health Communication’s century and envisages the next 100 issues . Dr Rabin is Director of GLOBALHealthPR, the largest independent public relations group dedicated exclusively to health and medical communications worldwide, of which VIVA! Communications is the exclusive Australian partner.
Milestones matter, and achieving a century of anything is worth noting.
In Poland, where I have lived and worked since 2005, birthdays are celebrated not with a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You,” but with a raucous song called “Sto Lat!” that means “100 Years.” My adopted country clearly gets the message.
There is no question that over the span of its existence, the Journal of Health Communications has made a real difference in advancing and diffusing knowledge in this critical sector of the communications discipline. As a member of the Journal’s editorial board, I’m excited to celebrate this 100 issue achievement, however, the question that I ask myself is, “Where do we go from here?” I think that the challenges of staying relevant in the years that lie ahead will be both plentiful and, hopefully, invigorating ones for this journal, its editors, contributors and readers.
The first change I expect to see is in the focus of the articles we publish. These changes will be driven by a combination of profound global demographic changes, ongoing economic pressures and the plethora of new media and media apps that are the currency of early 21stcentury communications. With respect to demographics, we are right now in the midst of two profound currents of change: on the one hand, western society is aging rapidly, and on the other hand, the number of young people in the developing societies of Asia, Africa and Latin America is growing at an extraordinary rate.
So, how is our world going to meet the increasing demands on health care systems to address simultaneously the very different health needs of our societies? If we are to do a better job of deploying limited financial resources to control non-communicable diseases in both the aging societies of the West and the more rapidly westernizing societies of the developing world, it is clear that improved health communications must be part of the solution.
Over the JHC’s next 100 issues, we will need to plan our editorial calendar more aggressively to identify examples of innovative health communications programs of health literacy and non-communicable disease prevention among the elderly and infectious disease prevention programs in the developing world, and make sure that such programs are being evaluated responsibly and to publish and disseminate the results in a timely fashion.
The second change I envision is a greater attention to the lessons that might be learned from historical achievements in health communications. Beginning in the 1970s, the US National Institutes of Health initiated national programs of high blood pressure and cholesterol education whose work clearly correlates with reductions in coronary heart disease. Given the ongoing epidemic of obesity, it would probably be worthwhile to revisit an experimental NHLBI program that I consulted on, which successfully changed supermarket consumer point-of-purchase decisions towards lower fat and calorie foods.
Nor has JHC published much academic analysis of successful private-sector, primarily industry-funded, programs that have had a positive impact on health behaviors either by themselves or as complements to government efforts (our articles on private sector health communications to date have tended towards the critical side). I believe that JHC needs to cast its net more broadly in this direction. The same holds true with respect to new media, especially social media. For all the academic analysis that has taken place, I suspect that the best work still takes place in the public sector. GLOBALHealthPR, a global partnership of healthcare communications consultancies I work with, recently did a significant analysis of the social media impact of World Malaria Day 2011. Indeed, I think the rabbit-like proliferation of national and international health-related days, weeks and months provides a massive trove of health communications data to be analyzed systematically by our authors.
In sum, there is abundant ferment and change taking place in healthcare communication. I know that JHC will continue to publish articles that monitor, analyze and evaluate these changes. My “birthday wish” is for JHC to do even more to help set the agenda and drive progress in the field at this critical time.
Kenneth H Rabin is the Director for GLOBALHealthPR, a network of health-focused, independent communications firms, founded by Spectrum. Ken is also the Adjunct Professor of Public Relations and Corporate Communications, New York University. He has served as a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Health Communication since 2002. A version of this article first appeared in the Journal of Health Communication.