Almost no one would deny the importance of medications and drugs in today’s world. Although there are still some orthodox individuals who completely oppose medicalization, they constitute only a small proportion of the global community. The majority of us are content with receiving medical treatments as long as our health needs and interests are met. Indeed, some of us obsessively seek for treatments even in situations when we do not need any. These situations vary and include liposuction, cosmetic nose job, and taking antibiotics for the flu. Perhaps our addiction with medicine is why drugs are so easily misused (e.g. morphine addiction) or overused (e.g. antibiotic resistance).
Since the past decade, the term personalized medicine has gained increasing popularity among the general public. It is defined as a medical intervention or drug specifically tailored to an individual depending on his or her genetic makeup and personal expectations. The concept arises from the belief that different people may react differently to a certain drug; drug X is effective for one person but futile for another. Yet, as exciting as it sounds, personalized medicine only addresses the curative aspect of medicine. As United Nations members already pledged to reach universal health care (UHC) by 2030, health promotion and prevention strategies must also be prioritized.1 We often talk about personalized medicine, but we never entertain the idea of personalized health education tool.
Could it possibly change the way we fight diseases?
It may be the first time you ever hear of such term. For health promotion and prevention strategies to be optimally implemented, we have to develop effective health education materials. These tools are defined as the facilities or media to deliver health information, which include both printed and electronic materials. The primary aim of health education tools is to increase people’s knowledge and empower them to shift to positive health behavior. In the context of COVID-19 pandemic, an example of such tool is COVID-19 infographics published by the Indonesian Ministry of Health on their website.2 In addition, various non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and even student-led initiatives are also taking part in developing COVID-19 educational resources. It’s a low-cost, high-impact tool that helps raise awareness and allows us to protect ourselves.
So, with the omnipresence of COVID-19 infographics in digital platforms and workplaces, it is only logical to expect people adopt a healthier behavior and the disease spread slow down. Yet, the pandemic in Indonesia has not shown any sign of easing.
What could be the cause?
There can be many contributing factors, but one reason might be the fact that the health educational tools we encounter are often too general, thereby failing to appeal to any specific group of audience. Health organizations want to reach out to as many people as possible, but in doing so they risk making generic or boring content that does not attract much attention. People scrolling through their Instagram only need 3 to 5 seconds to figure out what post to skip and what post to read. The truth is, before we can feel empowered and modify our behavior, we have to be able to relate to the education material’s content first. How we understand health information is not only affected by literacy but also by our personal preference. Even if we have the capacity to understand a concept but simply do not like the way it is presented, chances are we will not invest our time in reading it. Your little brother may get bored if you show him a 5-minute-video elaborating how masks work, but he will definitely hear you out if you are able to incorporate his favorite Marvel superhero into your explanation. Iron Man is immune to the virus because he always remembers to put his mask on, you might say.
Personalized health education tool is not a far-fetched idea. In fact, some institutions are already adopting this concept, namely John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As one of the world’s leading public health institutions, Bloomberg has a moral duty to spread reliable messages on COVID-19 prevention for the public. Nick Moran, associate director of audience development at Bloomberg, explained that their team are faced with challenges in performing the task as physical distancing measures are put in place.3 As a result, they had to rethink a new way of delivering health messages to online audience. Through their Instagram account, Bloomberg (@johnshopkinssph) utilizes Instagram Insights to learn about their audience profile. They found that their Instagram posts are seen mostly by college students and widely shared with their networks. Taking advantage of this information, Bloomberg has decided to infuse their COVID-19 educational posts with humor and elements of pop culture since mid-pandemic. This enables many 18-to 24-year-olds to relate to the health education tool, understand its message, and eventually feel more empowered in changing their behaviors.
Our modern culture is so obsessed with curative medical approaches that we rarely appreciate the crucial role of prevention and promotion in limiting disease occurrence. If the concept of personalized medicine is imaginable, then personalized health education tool is even more within reach. With its low cost and ease of production, personalized health education tool can be a breakthrough idea for us to fight this pandemic as well as other diseases.
Edward Christopher Yo is a fourth-year medical student in Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Indonesia who takes an interest in public health. He is currently a Research Intern at Medical Education Center IMERI FKUI. For future collaboration to work on this concept, please contact Edward at email@example.com.