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Taking health issues to the classroom

It’s time pharma looked to the classroom to improve the nation’s health
Back to school

Even though health issues are at the forefront of the media agenda, with health pages in most print publications and a wealth of information online, public ignorance of many issues remains alarmingly high.

A recent study by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that 90% of people had inadequate health literacy levels, and that this was having a negative effect on their lives. There is, therefore, a significant opportunity for pharma to engage with the wider community to improve the patient journey through knowledge and research-led education intervention initiatives around the major health issues; the earlier the intervention, the better the patient outcome.

Although some people regard health education and health promotion as synonymous, there is a clear difference between targeted consumer-facing campaigns and innovative teaching and learning tools for the classroom which enhance understanding and shape behaviour.

There are many advantages for pharma in partnering with schools, youth groups and hard-to-reach communities with meaningful, engaging education outreach programmes.

UK schools provide a sizeable audience with approaching 10 million young people engaged at any one time, spending 43 per cent of their day in education settings. Annual intake is approaching 720,000 children, supported by over 500,000 adult teachers and teaching support staff. Many of those same children are engaged with registered youth groups such as the scouts and guides. They are an effective and receptive audience with a 'need state' that is well established.

A community setting

Schools and youth groups sit at the very heart of the community. Their role is changing; not only are they centres of learning, but they are also fast becoming recognised as efficient community hubs for the delivery of primary health care.

Take vaccination, for example. HPV and flu vaccines are now to be delivered routinely through schools with supporting education outreach activity using contemporary film content, imaginative animation and high level digital support.

It's important to be aware from early foundation stages through to university there is a clear framework and mandate for the delivery of health and disease awareness messaging. Every school has a child protection and health protection policy with agreed protocols and approaches. These lend themselves to support from those involved in public health campaigns for a range of conditions that specifically manifest themselves in a school environment.

Whether it be health education around asthma; hay fever; diabetes; epilepsy; oral health; hearing; visual impairment; sexual health; contactable diseases such as measles or mumps; impetigo; or childhood and teenage cancers – the educational environment is a receptive and willing partner.

It's a valued partnership; there are real tangible benefits to schools in promoting health messages as there is a direct correlation between good health and educational attainment. This may be attributed to less time being taken away from school due to illness (both pupils and teachers) or generally having an improved healthcare awareness. Clearly getting the message home is important as what is taught in the classroom also has a big impact at home. Educational materials can help bridge the divide between parents and schools, particularly in relation to how conditions are 'managed'.

Supporting parents of children who have medical conditions and are attending school is challenging for parents and for school managers. Parents often feel that, as a consequence of their child's condition, their education and social development is not been adequately met. This can be overcome if schools are given the appropriate tools to communicate that their needs are in fact met for all parents.

We know that driving positive advocacy among the education and medical communities simultaneously triggers real changes in behaviour and by association improvements in patient outcomes. Where audiences are disengaged with education and have limited or no access to health education they can be reached through specialist `hard to reach' support networks provided they have access to the right communication tools.

The communication tools need to speak to our individual audiences, whether they are health and education professionals or parents and young people, in ways that resonate with them. We also need to be clear in developing these tools what is the single most important thing we want these audiences to take away.

Through clarity of message and innovation in delivery we can invoke trust, confidence and understanding with these young audiences – and, more importantly, affect changes in behaviour. And it's not a question of re-inventing the wheel. Pharma often has the content for educational programmes – it's a question of repurposing and repositioning.

A real opportunity exists to effect changes in behaviour and understanding and built confidence in the industry as it seeks to engage ethically and legitimately with the communities it serves. Win, win.

Article by
Sandie Dinning

is head of youth and community engagement at Red Door Communications and can be contacted via email

15th December 2014

From: Healthcare



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