Review: Effective risk communication for public health emergency: Reflection on the COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) outbreak in Wuhan, China

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Review: Effective risk communication for public health emergency: Reflection on the COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) outbreak in Wuhan, China

Review: Effective risk communication for public health emergency: Reflection on the COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) outbreak in Wuhan, China

This article highlights the ineffective risk communication used in Wuhan, China, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and offers recommendations for effective message-centered communication.

Based on the effective and ineffective communication strategies implemented in Wuhan, China during the COVID-19 pandemic, a simplified Government-Expert-Public risk communication model was designed to illustrate a collaborative network for effective risk communication. Utilizing a message-centered approach provides scientific and systemic methods to communicate risk effectively. The following are nine evidence-based, message-centered best practices for risk communication:

  • Infuse risk communication into policy decisions
  • Treat risk communication as a process
  • Account for uncertainty inherent in risk
  • Design risk messages to be culturally sensitive
  • Acknowledge diverse levels of risk tolerance
  • Involve the public in dialogue about risk
  • Present risk messages with honesty
  • Meet risk perception needs by remaining open and accessible to the public
  • Collaborate and coordinate about risk with credible information sources

Unfortunately in both internal and external communication, Wuhan’s government’s decision making, information dissemination, and risk interpretation failed. Specifically, government leaders did not infuse scientific risk communication into policy decisions, stalled at reporting and presented risk messages dishonestly, and failed to account for inherent uncertainty and different levels of risk tolerance.

Based on this experience, several lessons from the outbreak management showcase the need for effective risk communication, and the following principles are offered as guidance:

  • Be accessible and open with risk information
  • Communicate early and often about risk
  • Use a strategic method for communicating uncertainty

By implementing these communicative practices, government, expert, and public communication will be more effective.

|2020-04-15T16:39:05-04:00April 7th, 2020|COVID-19 Literature|Comments Off on Review: Effective risk communication for public health emergency: Reflection on the COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) outbreak in Wuhan, China

About the Author: Maria Brann

Maria Brann
Dr. Maria Brann, PhD, MPH, is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and affiliate faculty with the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University. She explores the integration of health, interpersonal, and gender communication. Her translational focus and mixed methods approach are woven throughout her health vulnerabilities research, which advocates for more effective communication to improve people’s health and safety. Her primary research interests focus on the study of women’s and ethical issues in health communication contexts and promotion of healthy lifestyle behaviors to improve personal and public health and safety. She researches communication at both the micro and macro levels and studies how communication influences relationships among individuals and with the social world.

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