Sometimes you have to hear things
more than once before they sink in. I know this because my dental hygienist had
to nag me about 20 times before I actually started flossing regularly.
Part of the government's job is the same as my
dental hygienist's: governments at the federal, state, and local levels are
charged with helping their citizens improve their health, and sometimes this
involves telling them over, and over, and over again to get a flu shot or eat
Web 2.0 technologies provide new
ways for government agencies to get the word out. The federal government has
been making big strides, but agencies at the state and local level have been
slower to catch on: some have social media sites but don't update them
regularly, and others at the state or local level haven't even started to make
use of these. OhMyGov recently cruised some of the existing social media
efforts of government in the area of health. In no particular order, here are 8
that stood out from the pack:
CDC on YouTube
The CDC is really stepping up to
the plate in using social media. Over the winter months, the agency has been
focusing its media on flu and swine flu prevention. The YouTube channel
features several helpful videos on these topics, providing information on
symptoms, explanation of antiviral drugs, and even instruction on how to give
Tamiflu capsules to young children, given that the liquid version of the drug
is in short supply.
Other videos from the CDC provide
information on HIV/AIDS, STDs, and cancer. My favorite video, though, was from
the section on childhood immunizations. In "Get the Picture: Child
Immunizations" a CDC pediatrician talks to mothers of young children about
childhood immunizations. Coffee cups in hand, the mothers sit around a living
room and ask a series of hard-hitting questions about vaccines (almost making
you believe the CDC hired a group of investigative journalists as actors).
Early in the conversation, a heavily made-up mom asks if vaccines cause autism.
The pediatrician deftly handles this concern, noting that autism is both
"serious" and "heart-wrenching," but that no studies have shown connections
between vaccines and this condition. In this and other videos, the CDC provides
an authoritative voice on issues about which the public may often be confused
or lacking information.
In the area of government agencies
promoting wellness, the CDC is the biggest user of widgets. Most widgets
contain information on flu or swine flu, but others provide information on
smoking and tobacco use or various tips for good health. My favorites were
those that used data in a very pithy way. Plug your height and weight into the
Adult BMI Calculator, and a split second later it will tell you if you're
underweight, normal, overweight, or obese. Then there are the widgets that
provide nuggets from the wealth of data the CDC collects. The Public Health
Data and Statistics widget has recently featured charts on the leading causes
of infant deaths in the U.S., cancer incidence by sex, and diabetes and obesity
rates by region. The FluView National Flu Activity Map is color-coded to show
the amount of flu activity in each state, updated weekly.
Alabama Department of Public Health on Facebook
The Alabama Department of Public
Health's (ADPH) Facebook page stands out among other government agency's
health-related pages because it is updated frequently and contains useful
information on a variety of health topics even in the midst of flu season. One
recent post advertised Scale Back Alabama, a yearly, state-wide weight loss
campaign-which also has its own Facebook group.
Other posts have promoted a new asthma program run by the state, a CDC fact
sheet on birth defects, and the agency's weekly electronic newsletter about the
state's H1N1 influenza vaccination efforts. Lots of health topics, lots of
information sources, and lots of updates make for a solid Facebook page.
New York City
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Twitter
New York City's health department
is using Twitter to keep residents up-to-date on local health issues. On
January 12, the health department used Twitter to solicit public comments on a
proposed system to grade restaurants' sanitary conditions. The health
department's Twitter account has also aggregated health information from other
New York City government Twitter accounts through retweets that advertize the
NYC Condom and the free use of recreation centers during the city's BeFitNYC
With last week's news
that a recent CDC study found one in five teenagers has unhealthy cholesterol
levels, now is a good time for our nation to renew its attention to eating a
healthy diet. This Twitter feed from the USDA is here to help, with reminders
to eat whole grains, "eat a variety of foods from each food group every day,"
and avoid using vitamin tablets as a substitute for a well-balanced diet.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline on YouTube
Sure, this topic may seem like a
downer amidst our celebration of government 2.0. But the National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline is perhaps the most innovative agency on this list in harnessing
social media to safeguard citizens' health. Not content to merely use YouTube
to post videos, this 24/7 suicide prevention hotline has partnered with the
social networking site to address circumstances in which YouTube users post
content that promotes suicide or suggests they are at risk. A page
in YouTube's Help section refers users to the Lifeline and notes that users can
flag videos for review by the YouTube team if the videos promote suicide. You
can learn more about the Lifeline and even view a segment from Dr. Phil by
visiting the Lifeline's YouTube site.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health blog
The Massachusetts Department of
Public Health has the best blog that I found in my searches. It's updated about
two times per week with well-organized information that includes a Weekly Flu
Report. Other recent posts have discussed Governor Patrick's promotion of the
H1N1 vaccine, the importance of breastfeeding, and getting more exercise. Most
impressive were the blog's efforts to be inclusive of the Spanish-speaking
population by including some posts in this language and to engage citizens
through sections that allow them to ask questions of a dental hygienist and a
Health and Human Services (HHS) "I'm a Flu Fighter" Facebook
As announced earlier this month on
White House Blog and OhMyGov,
HHS has partnered with a nonprofit called HealthySocial to produce a Facebook
app that lets people tell their friends they've been vaccinated. You start by
choosing a character (such as the grimacing flu virus below) and indicate
whether they've gotten the flu vaccine yet and how it was. The app then allows
you to publish this information to your own wall and your friends' walls.
When I tried it out, my main
complaint was that the app wasn't more interactive, like a fun game. With only
about 1 in 5 Americans vaccinated for swine flu, I'm guessing it's gonna take a
real killer app (a 3-D flu monster, perhaps?) to get the point across.