Health care professionals act as science communicators when they interpret complex statistics to inform their patients’ health care and encourage behavioral changes to improve health. Traditionally, such discussions have ranged from the effects of drugs to the rationale behind cancer screening. But connecting statistics can be difficult, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown. Although solving communication problems alone may not always lead to behavioral change – especially among skeptics – evidence shows that people can understand and be affected by statistics if the communicator presents them thoughtfully and intelligently.1, 2
We believe that some basic scientific principles can help health professionals use statistics in ways that inform and encourage action rather than distract or criticize. Although these studies are widely used, they are very important for the current need to be able to quickly and effectively explain the effects of climate change to patients and the general public in order to protect health and strengthen the individual and the community.
Giving numbers is important: research shows that giving numbers can build trust and motivate people to do better; many people also find the numbers useful.1 Also, hearing a message from a trusted person, such as a health professional, makes it sound more appealing than it might otherwise be; recipients can follow the suggestions related to this.2 Therefore, doctors have a powerful megaphone – and a great responsibility – to communicate health-related statistics effectively. But how they do it is important, especially because nearly a third of Americans are illiterate, lacking the math skills necessary to make effective health care decisions based on the numbers they face.1 Even the most educated people can be outnumbered, even though numbers and education are related. Fortunately, some well-established principles can guide conversations with patients and the public at large.1, 2
Panel A shows a topic related to the Covid-19 data, and Panel B shows how these data can be interpreted and interpreted. Panel C shows the subject that refers to Vicedo-Cabrera et al.,3 and Category D describes the communication methods that can be combined to provide this data. The information in Group B is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the article mentioned in Panel D is from KGW8 News (August 12, 2021).
A strategic approach begins with deciding the purpose of the communication – specifically, what the audience needs to understand. Achieving that goal should — but often doesn’t — drive the entire project. For example, in July 2021, mainstream media reported that 4115 people who received the vaccine in the United States had an illness that resulted in hospitalization or death. Although health experts understand that successful disease is inevitable – even when vaccines achieve their goal of preventing serious illness and death – this number confused the public and undoubtedly caused anxiety and mistrust. If the purpose of the communication was to educate people about the growth of vaccine protection, especially in hospitalization and death, it would be better to explain the medical data, for example, the number of hospitalizations per 100,000 people and compare the costs of the hospital. vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. Then all these sets could be shown simultaneously, clarifying how the vaccine reduced hospital stays (see picture).
This example shows how many of today’s problems, problems related to health. The medical and health communities need to communicate, quickly and decisively, what is known and how that knowledge can be changed. Communicating clearly about uncertainty can also help a perceived communication goal and help to undermine trust in the event of unexpected events.1
The impacts of climate change are happening here and now, affecting health directly and indirectly, disrupting health care delivery, and creating and deepening inequalities. Therefore, one goal of communicating with patients and the general public should be to increase understanding of the connection between climate change and health, making it real and relevant to the audience. Another goal would be to promote understanding of what people can do to protect their health and address the underlying causes of the problem.
A communication strategy to help achieve these goals will have several components.1, 2 The four main strategies are to present a clear story, reduce the information burden for the audience or reader, add context when appropriate, and provide possible answers. These principles can be used, for example, in the dissemination of information from a recent study on climate change by Vicedo-Cabrera et al., who say that more than a third (37%) of deaths caused by heat in the hot months were. which is a direct result of human-caused climate change.3
Figures given without context, however, can be vague and meaningless; comparison is one way of making data more understandable. One way to explain the implications of Vicedo-Cabrera et al., for example, would be to take advantage of the power of error-making.1, 4: instead of mentioning the static figure of 37%, one can emphasize the growth of death – about 59% increase in death due to heat as a result of climate change. Providing an increase in the number of deaths in the city or region of the reader or audience can be very useful in helping people realize how serious the risk is. It is therefore important to create and link to hyperlocal data whenever possible.
People can also be overwhelmed by complex information, so the second way to communicate effectively is to reduce information overload. Speakers cannot expect their audience to do math. For example, since many people struggle to understand the quantity,1 Doctors may want to translate the 59% increase in deaths into small, easy-to-understand numbers such as “Where two people would have died from extreme heat, now three people die, an increase due to human-caused climate change.” Research shows that exposure to such frequencies helps people think and respond emotionally to real-life situations.1
Keeping frames consistent is also important. For example, health professionals should provide statistics on death or survival rather than exchange in the same message. And it’s often confusing and overwhelming for people if the communicator doesn’t provide all the information at once.1, 2
Third, although rationalizing statistics can make messages more effective, transferring knowledge and raising awareness may not be sufficient to promote behavioral change.2, 4 People find it easy to ignore health principles that are foreign and far from their experience. Stories (for example, about people affected by extreme heat) can help bridge the gap between climate change and health. Many health professionals combine statistics and human stories to educate patients, promote understanding of the topic’s importance in their lives, and change their feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. The records alone, however, do not clearly describe the nature of the events, so they need to be linked to data related to the number of statistics.
Finally, visibility is essential for promoting behavioral change5; people need to know about the solutions they can take and the actions they believe they can take. Communication should include a consistent call to action. For example, health professionals can provide important information to patients to protect their health during hot weather (such as how to find a cool place when the power goes out) or help deal with the causes of climate change (for example, ask your local representative to ask you to take action). transition from the burning of fossil fuels to a safer, healthier alternative to energy sources). If people fail to recognize the power of certain actions or do not have confidence in what they can do, they lose hope for the future and will not take action.
The use of these and other evidence-based approaches is especially important as climate change becomes more widespread and actionable.1, 2 Dedicated research is needed to test these strategies in relation to climate change, taking into account additional factors that influence public opinion, including disinformation campaigns and political manipulation. But helping people understand the issue is critical to protecting health today and encouraging immediate action to end the fossil fuel gap.