Top 10 Highlights from 1st ever Digital Health Communication Extravaganza (#DHCX)

SurroundHealth, a free online social network for health professionals, was proud to be an exhibitor at last week’s inaugural DHCX (#DHCX, @jaybernhardt).  The event was certainly an extravaganza and included TedTalk-style presentations, highly visual and dynamic PowerPoint presentations (no death by text-heavy PowerPoints at this conference) and lots of surprise entertainment between speakers (jugglers, comedians, ballet dancers, hip hop dancers and more). 

Below are the Top 10 highlights from the conference.  And, join us at SurroundHealth to connect with others, gain knowledge, and discover new resources and best practices. Our interdisciplinary community helps us all think in different and innovative ways,

 1: Social media and technology are tools; not solutions to health problems.  While the technology will always change and health professionals may feel pressure to stay up to date, the fundamental skills of analyzing a health issue and problem solving will always be critical to promoting healthy behavior.  With social media and technology, we need to learn how to apply the tools in the right way to have the greatest effect. Effective digital health communication programs must tap into a range of expertise  — user interface (UX) experts, developers, behavioral scientists, lawyers (for guidance on privacy protection), and — most importantly,  the end user — the people who are going to be exposed to the health messages.  Before we build, we need to understand the problem we are trying to solve. Our approaches need to be based on sound behavioral science. (Robert Gold, PhD, University of Maryland, School of Public Health, @rsgold; Kathy Crosby, Center for Tobacco Products, FDA)

2: Time to take the “ME” out of social media.  Measure the success of digital health communication not by the number of followers but by the answers to these questions: Did this stimulate conversation?  Does this get passed on to others?  We should be asking ourselves “What can my content do?” instead of “What’s next?” and “Come to me – come to me!” (Dana Lewis, #hcsm, @danamlewis;  Larry King, ICF International/IronWorks, @IWX)

3: Effective digital health communication programs promote immediacy. Immediacy means the program is dynamic, exciting, promotes physical and emotional closeness, communicates clearly, humanely and persuasively.    Programs with immediacy create enjoyment and have both the sizzle and the substance.  Before we jump on the band wagon of technology, we need to be concerned first with building meaningful healthy relatinships with people over time.  Quality health communication depends more on the message than on the channel.  (Gary Kreps, Department of Communication, Center for Health and Risk Communication, George Mason University)

4: Consumers live seamlessly between real life and digital world. Health communication programs need to be an integrated experience, holistic approach.  We cannot just chase after the growing number of devices.  We need to focus on a consistent user experience as users toggle back and forth from their various devices — desktop computers, smart phones, and tablets. Responsive Web Design provides a tool for developers and UX experts to use to create a consistent interface across platforms.  Then, you can progressively enhance the content depending on the platform capabilities of where it is being displayed. (Sue Lucas, SapientNitro; Larry King, ICF International/Ironworks, @IWX,

 5: Within digital health communication, content is king.  Then, health literacy must be the queen.  Content helps people solve problems related to health and wellness. While the speakers focused on the importance of making content open and flexible so people can consume the content in a way that works for them, we also need to focus on health literacy.  Bob Gold (@rsgold) identified literacy as the single, greatest public health intervention. Before we convey messages across a variety of social media channels and platforms, we first need to ensure the messages meet health literacy principles — clear, relevant and accessible.

 6: Consumers and patients are people.  All people can contribute to the healthcare conversation.  Use social media to help build a conversation.  Then, expand media outreach from there. Consumers trust their peers.  The best brands don’t tell the best stories.  The best brands are where consumers tell the best stories about them.  For an example of a campaign that starts with consumer insights and builds the conversation, check out  — an online birth control support network for women 18-29 operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private non-profit organization.  (Dana Lewis, #hcsm, @danamlewis; Sue Lucas, SapientNitro; Lawrence Swiader, The National Campain to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy)

7. Go Do theme of Victor Strecher’s provocative keynote session suggests we help people first focus on their core values and purpose in life before bombarding with health messages.  This Go Do keynote was about the things we need to do which we are not doing now as digital health communication experts.  Victor challenged the audience to seek ways within digital health communication to leverage motivational interviewing and self-affirmation theory (affirmation of core values in life) to help break down individuals’ defensive walls and make them more receptive to health messages. When exposed to health messages, people often have a defensive wall (the ego’s way of protecting you from attacks on self).  While external rewards and incentives are growing in popularity, they likely have little effect on the individual’s defensive wall. Research has shown that people who are focused on a purpose in life and have affirmed their core values in life have more control over their health behaviors. 

8.  Among health professionals, those who are adept at using social media tools need to help coach and facilitate learning for other health professionals.  Dana Lewis (#hcsm, @danamlewis) reminded the audience that a gap of knowledge and self-efficacy (can-do confidence) exists among health professionals when it comes to using social media tools.  Those health professionals who feel comfortable using the tools have a responsibility to help coach other health professionals and facilitate their learning.  We are all in this together and peer-to-peer support among health professionals is critical to the success of digital health communication programs.

 9. Time to focus on the “social” aspects of social media for behavior change rather than the “media.” Craig Lefebvre, University of South Florida School of Public Health reminded attendees that people are not going to social media to make a behavior change. They tap into social media for relationships. Social media is not about reach but about exposure and amplifying health messages. Health communication experts need to look at what is social about behavior and how social behaviors are connected.  Look at how social aspects of a network can be leveraged for setting goals, getting people engaged, and helping people work together to problem solve for health changes. (Craig Lefebvre,

 10. TedMed and RWJF team up to create, The Great Challenges of Health and Medicine. The goal of the program is to develop a list of approximately 20 to 30 challenges, attach a project champion to each challenge, and empower them to create a plan for presenting that challenge to the TEDMED community with the goal of crowd sourcing votes to determine the top Great Challenges of 2012.   Jonathan Cho, Office of Communication and Education, National Cancer Insitute, announced that NCI is going to serve as an educational and science “clearinghouse” for the challenges that deal with cancer issues and topics. Got a challenge?  Want to check out ideas that have already been submitted?  Visit the Center for Digital Health and Wellness IdeaScale community.


About Susan Collins, MS, CHES, RD, SurroundHealth Blogger

I am Community Leader for SurroundHealth (, a social network where health professionals from different backgrounds come together to learn from one another's expertise and to share knowledge and resources. We share a passion for improving the health and well-being of communities and individuals. I am also a registered dietitian and certified health education specialist.
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4 Responses to Top 10 Highlights from 1st ever Digital Health Communication Extravaganza (#DHCX)

  1. Kelly Blake says:

    Thanks for this insightful summary of the conference highlights. I noticed that in #5 you refer to University of Maryland School of Public Health Dean Robert S. Gold (goes by Bob, not Rob). His twitter handle for anyone wishing to follow him is @rsgold. Thanks for making the correction!

  2. Nathan Grey says:

    Thanks. Helpful summary. I have distributed to my colleagues.

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