Online Program

Public information officers in the public health system: A profile of public health communicators

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Alex F. Howard, DrPH, ATC, Department of Health Behavior, University of Kentucky College of Public Health, Lexington, KY
Cynthia D. Lamberth, MPH, CPH, College of Public Health, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Lauren Coil, MLIS, College of Public Health, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Robin Pendley, DrPH, MPH, CPH, Department of Health Services Management and Policy, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN
Introduction: The terrorist attacks of September 11 as well as the anthrax cases of 2001 greatly changed the practice of public health in the United States. As a result, communication professionals became integral members of the public health workforce, yet very little attention has been given to this group and their specific functions. Methods: An online survey was conducted of the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) in November, 2011. One-hundred ninety seven of the 580 recipients (RR=35%) responded to the 23 item questionnaire. Results: Of the 197 survey participants only 171 were included for analysis. Most public health communicators are female (81.1%), ≥46 years of age (56.4%), possess at least a bachelor's degree (52%), are formally trained in communication/journalism (48.2%), and are full time appointments (64.9%). Developing press releases (95.4%) and creating materials to promote agency services (88.7%), were the most frequently reported job responsibilities. During crisis, participants indicated a greater likelihood of communicating with community health organizations (D36.4%), external health professionals (D40.4%), and other health departments (D28.4%). Conclusion: Public health PIOs serve as a communication bridge between public health departments and members of the jurisdiction/s served by the agency, particularly during times of crisis when information needs are highest. However, participants in this study report limited pre-crisis communication activities with other professionals involved in emergency management activities, which could consequently hinder an effective response to public health emergencies.

Learning Areas:

Communication and informatics
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe public health communicators working in public health systems throughout the U.S. Identify the primary functions of public health communicators Compare communication behaviors prior to crisis to those behaviors likely to occur during a response to crisis

Keyword(s): Communication, Risk Communication

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have served as lead author for a related manuscript that investigated crisis communication during H1N1. In addition, I currently teach courses related to crisis management of public health emergencies, which involves significant discussion and instruction regarding risk and crisis communications.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.