This article proposes strategies for infectious disease clinicians to apply risk communication principles to improve patient care and public messaging in response to COVID-19.
Two key components affects people’s perceptions of risk and ultimately their response to that risk: hazard and outrage. To increase the likelihood that individuals will comply with recommended health behaviors like wearing a mask or social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals must understand how many people are exposed, infected, and fall ill (i.e., hazard) and perceive that information as a risk and respond to risk mitigation messages (i.e, outrage). Several factors influence hazard and outrage including social and cultural factors, immediacy, uncertainty, familiarity, personal control, trust, and the media. The dynamic nature of pandemics means that public health leaders need to address different aspects of hazard and outrage as the information regarding the pandemic evolves. Regardless though, developing clear, simple, and appropriate messages is essential for effective communication, especially on social media platforms. Standard principles of risk communication need to be applied when communicating about hazard and outrage:
- Plan carefully
- Accept the public as partners
- Be transparent and honest
- Acknowledge uncertainty
- Speak with compassion
- Evaluate and reassess strategies
Understanding these principles of risk perception is critical for public health experts and clinicians to be a collective and effective voice to mitigate risk and save lives.