Online Health Information
Two studies available this week evaluate the content of health information online. In a study assessing the quality of COVID-19 information on public websites, it was determined that most websites have substandard scores for readability, usability, reliability, and quality. It is suggested that strategies for implementing standardized online health information related to COVID-19 is necessary to ensure the public has access to reliable quality information, and the article presents several recommendations to improve online communication including writing in short sentences, using active voice and larger fonts, and incorporating non-textual media.
A second study also evaluated the quality of COVID-19 information on the Internet and determined that credible sites such as .edu and .org websites were excellent in communicating COVID-19-related health information, unlike .com websites. Because of the gap in the quality of information presented, it is recommended to utilize verified websites that provide evidence-based health information, which are likely found on education and organization websites. Still, websites should include a clear statement of purpose, and consumers should critically analyze information presented online.
Effects of Government Communication
A cohort study of 181 countries’ social distancing measures analyzed the policies’ effects on COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality. Results demonstrate that the implementation of stay-at-home orders, closures of schools and non-essential business, and travel restrictions all independently contributed to flattening the curve. Each of the four distancing measures decreased the slope of cumulative cases by 57-64%, and stay-at-home orders decreased the slope of cumulative deaths by 48%. Therefore, this study supports the use of government-imposed social distancing measures to reduce COVID19 cumulative incidence.
Another study of three countries found that government response effort and business reopening agreements as well as intensity of information source use, social media use, and knowledge about COVID-19 influenced individuals’ adherence to social distancing recommendations. The study demonstrated the government’s persuasion effect on guideline adherence and noted that in the United States, citizens expect the government to provide information and a rationale to balance what many perceive to be a threat to their personal freedoms with social distancing measures.
Given the evidence of positive effects of government-communicated preventive measures, it’s not surprising to also see this week a commentary that addresses how misleading communication by President Trump has had disastrous effects on America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The president’s lack of transparency and misinformation has intensified throughout the crisis, which is dangerous to the American people. The president has violated principles of public health and in the process risked countless American’s lives and politically polarized evidence-based public health practices. To address this dangerous path, it is imperative that the president stop the spread of misinformation; adopt a more expert-centered approach; and practice compassionate, empathic, and transparent communication.