Background: Linguistic and cultural barriers exist for consumers needing health information. Approximately 18.7% of Americans don't speak English as their primary language and 8.4% have limited English proficiency (1). These barriers contribute to the health disparities experienced by many racial and ethnic minority groups who suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and asthma. We address this disparity by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate information about FDA’s regulated products that are accessible and easy to read and implementing strategies to engage minorities in the decision making process (e.g. federal advisory committee).
Program background: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established the Office of Minority Health (OMH) in 2010 under the Affordable Care Act. The OMH is a cross cutting office that works across FDA to improve outreach with underserved populations and to partner with stakeholders to identify health disparities and strategies to reduce them. In 2014, OMH launched a robust, multi-faceted Outreach and Communication Program (OCP) to address stakeholder’s needs. The OCP uses electronic platforms and interpersonal interactions to build a communication network where stakeholders can receive information about FDA’s medical products (medications, devices, and biologics) and raise awareness around health issues of particular importance to underserved populations. Electronic platforms include social media, webinars, website, and electronic newsletters to disseminate information and to actively engage with consumers to gain their valuable feedback on FDA’s programs and policies. The communications strategy focuses on two content areas: 1) key health issues that affect minorities (e.g. increasing clinical trial participation) and 2) new or emerging information around these issues from FDA’s Centers (e.g. new drug approved for anti-clotting in stroke patients). Once identified, the OMH strategically crafts messages around these topic areas using the appropriate electronic platforms to reach our audience. Examples of strategies include developing tweets for Twitter; writing consumer updates, FDA Voice Blogs, and newsletters; hosting webinars; posting infographics to Pinterest; creating electronic brochures; email blasts; as well as keeping our website up to date. Content is translated into Spanish and other languages, as needed. We also maintain active, on-going bi-directional communication to ensure the minority voice is heard. This includes attending conferences, hosting meetings, conducting webinars and direct communication with stakeholders through listening sessions to build interactive relationships to facilitate engagement (e.g. respond to public dockets).
Evaluation Methods and Results: Metrics are tracked via Google Analytics and internally. Within the first year, we have received about 300 website hits monthly, 539 Pinterest subscribers, 1,500 Twitter followers, and 8,000 listserve members. Qualitative information suggests that our stakeholders value and rely on receiving our information to help inform their practices.
Conclusions: OMH has been fully operational for three years and we quickly demonstrated value in building our brand by using various electronic platforms and interpersonal communications. The key to our success has been prioritizing the content areas, strategically selecting the best mode of communication, maintaining an open feedback loop, and being flexible with our outreach strategies.
Implications for research and/or practice: Further research can assess the effectiveness of using social media to raise awareness on health issues affecting our stakeholders.