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Communicating research in the context of disasters: science at work in communities
Monday, November 17, 2014: 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Environmental epidemiologic studies use trans-disciplinary, complex approaches to answer seemingly simple questions from communities such as is the seafood safe to eat or the air safe to breathe. Human health studies differ distinctly from animal studies in design and implementation. From a design perspective, randomized controlled trials, the gold standard in providing the most direct evidence of causation, are not possible because exposures to contaminants have often already occurred and prospectively exposing humans is ethically inappropriate. Common study limitations are insufficient exposure characterization, especially past exposures, lag time between exposure and study, obtaining a representative study sample and control subjects, and confounding social determinants which may influence environmental studies’ findings. Since, unlike lab experiments, human health studies are conducted in a public forum, earning community trust is critical. Among the key challenges faced by post-disaster study teams are the high concern/ low trust environment, the perception = reality equation, and the community’s need for health services. From a community’s perspective, the longer it takes to answer the question “are my family and I safe?” the less credible the answer becomes.
Against this backdrop, post-disaster study teams are faced with two additional closely linked challenges: assuring effective dissemination of findings; and communicating the science in a fashion which enables community action. Specifically, in post-disaster settings the implications of ineffectively communicating research findings, the community impact of disseminating poor quality science, and how to communicate “no news is good news” can affect the ultimate the yield of a human health study. In 1989, the National Research Council (NRC) defined health risk communication as an “interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions”. NRC’s attention to risk communication was spurred by community concerns associated with both abandoned hazardous waste sites. Among the results of this effort was the development of principles aimed at promoting effective risk communication practice including in the context of sharing the findings of environmental epidemiologic studies.
To date, lessons learned from the early environmental health era have not been effectively translated in the context of disaster- related research. This is specifically the case with research involving the biggest potential loser: communities facing interdependent challenges of health disparities, environmental threats, and disasters. In addition to addressing the complex limitations of environmental epidemiologic studies, effective communication of findings derived from such research requires an upstream, collaborative strategy akin to community-based participatory research and multi-directional communication and dissemination embedded in each aspect of study design and implementation. Furthermore, characterization of baseline exposure levels in communities to examine health status trends overtime and collaborative, sustained endeavors to advance trust and credibility can proactively build community capacity in between disasters and advance readiness for future studies.
A multi-sector panel consisting of stakeholders from government, industry, community and academia will describe strategies to address the limitations inherent to environmental epidemiologic studies in the context of disasters and use case-based examples to illustrate the importance of effectively communicating science to foster community action. Panelists will also assess the social amplification of disseminating poor quality science. Special emphasis will be placed on the community perspective through the lens of a local community leader.
Session Objectives: •Describe approaches to overcome challenges associated with environmental health studies
•Identify strategies for the timely conduct of scientific research during environmental health emergencies
•Examine the role of risk communication in the design and implementation of post- disaster studies especially in health disparate disaster-prone populations
•Assess the social amplification of disseminating poor quality science
•Discuss strategies for community engagement in communicating research
See individual abstracts for presenting author's disclosure statement and author's information.
Organized by: APHA-Special Sessions
Endorsed by: Injury Control and Emergency Health Services, Public Health Nursing, Public Health Social Work, Black Caucus of Health Workers
Medical (CME), Health Education (CHES), Nursing (CNE), Public Health (CPH)
Masters Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES)