Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can We Harness New Media for Public Health?

After a year of public health blogging I have numerous questions on the utility and impact of new media on public health. While there is no technical definition of "new media" that I am aware of (please tell me if you have one) this is what I mean by the term:
"Interactive digital media, such as the Internet, as opposed to traditional media such as print and television" (from Wictionary - an example of new media in action).
Other types of new media that I regularly interact with include: Facebook; Twitter; personal and community blogs; Delicious; Yelp; YouTube; LinkedIn; and, of course, my cell phone. A few of these examples fall into the social media category. In other words, it is used to primarily network with others and to build relationships. Others are primarily used for communicating and documenting ideas, activities, and information.

There are a variety of ways to use new/social media...and that brings me to the questions that I just keep on asking myself...

  1. How are public health organizations using new media to achieve their health promotion or disease prevention objectives? Who is using it? Which populations are they targeting?
  2. Are these new media activities being evaluated? If so, what measures are being used? 
  3. Can public health professionals measure the health impact (short- and long-term) of new media initiatives? What are the best-practices in doing this evaluation and can it be replicated?
  4. What is the most effective way to harness new media for public health? Which public health issues or which target populations may be best addressed through a new media communications or intervention approach?
  5. Does blogging have a role as a public health promotion tool? If so, what is it??
  6. How does the dynamism of new media (we say it "changes every day!") affect the impact and sustainability of public health activities that substantially depend on volatile/ever-changing technology?
These questions are not easily answered; yet I feel they are essential to ask and investigate if we are going to seriously utilize new media in our public health work.

How do you think new media can and should be used for public health purposes? How are you using it?

Note: It is amazing how quickly this "new" media is becoming adopted globally. The dynamic and ever-changing landscape of media technology used for communication and social networking is an unsurprising product of modernity (a process set in motion decades ago...). For a series of videos on the topic check out the New Media, Social Networking, and Public Health series hosted at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2008-2009.

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