7th Annual Emerging Te(x)chs Conference Emphasizes the Power of Social Media in Public Health Promotion
On May 5, public health professionals from across Harris County met at the United Way of Greater Houston for the 7th Annual Emerging Te(x)chs Conference. Hosted by Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic, The University of Texas Prevention and Research Center, The Baylor College of Medicine Center for Reproductive Medicine, and The Spirit Golf Association, the event centered on the utilization of social media platforms to promote STD/HIV prevention and general reproductive health among youth and young adults.
The conference featured interactive presentations by leaders in the public, private and academic sectors as well as networking opportunities and breakout sessions–all focusing on new technologies and their efficacy in providing access to services and improving outcomes.
“We have done several studies that have indicated that the public health community is sometimes intimidated by social media platforms, so the goal of this conference is really to educated them on effective ways to use social media and hopefully implement these technologies into more and more public health venues,” explained Peggy Smith, M.A., PH.D, professor and director of the Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinics. “Time and again we’re seeing that public health professionals want to communicate face-to-face, but millennials do not. Our focus needs to be on promoting creative ways to reach these populations.”
The presentations–which included maps, charts, graphs, social media applications, anecdotes, quizzes, lessons from the Ebola response, and even a comic strip–all centered around targeting populations in need and matching those populations with services. Embedded in every solution was technology.
“Technology is where the kids are–while the message is incredibly important, it is equally important that we understand the vehicle, the mode of communication,” explained Rachel Kachur, M.P.H., a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Kachur’s presentation focused on the use of mobile devices to reach youth and young adults. After pointing out that even Google has recognized the preference of mobile browsing by prioritizing search results based on whether or not a webpage is optimized for mobile viewing, she reviewed various social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Tinder, asking the attendees to familiarize themselves with these platforms and brainstorm ways in which their respective organizations could harness these sites for reproductive health education and outreach.
While the days’ presentations covered the many barriers individuals face when seeking care, the need for locating services seems to be one of the biggest challenges in the field. Patrick Sullivan, DVM, Ph.D., epidemiologist and investigator at the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, lead a presentation on AIDSVu, a state-of-the-art interactive online map depicting the prevalence of HIV in the U.S. The map includes options to view national, state and local data so that users can visually explore the HIV epidemic alongside critical resources such as HIV testing centers and treatment locations as well as prevention and vaccine trials sites. It also allows users to filter data by demographics including race/ethnicity, sex and age, and explore how prevalence may be related to various social determinants of health including education and socioeconomic factors. By combining the surveillance data, researchers are able to locate populations in need and address gaps in the continuum of care.
“The epidemiology of HIV is a roadmap telling us how to intervene–how to target services and improve outcomes,” Sullivan said. “We want to know if we are putting the testing and treatment locations in the places where they are most needed. Mapping at smaller geographic levels allows us to assess the extent to which existing services are located in the right places to serve those who need them the most.”
Ultimately, the conference highlighted the need to go back to the basics–the focus on providing linkage to care above all else–yet doing so via modern technology.
“Each year, the goal of the conference is to update the community on interactive and electronic venues for patient interaction and for promoting health,” Smith said. “We still have some challenges, but we’re very excited to reach out to these professionals and encourage them to find creative ways to communicate with patients so that those in need are provided improved access to information and services.”