The extra ‘P’ at APP

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By Lisa Burling, Director Consumer Health

I’ve been lucky enough to escape Sydney for the sunnier climes of the Gold Coast this week, spending a couple of days at the APP conference.

APP stands for ‘Australian Pharmacy Professional’ and is the annual conference of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. But after listening to various talks and having conversations with delegates I think a ‘p’ is missing – and that’s one that stands for PEOPLE.

Why?

Because I’ve discovered that, behind closed doors, pharmacists spend a lot of time talking about us which is fantastic and hugely positive. Of course there are conversations about other ‘p’s – price points and politics to name just two. But it’s me and you – in our role as their customers – that they’re most interested in.

Senior Drug Information Pharmacist at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, Dr Geraldine Moses urged pharmacists and their teams communicate the facts to people about pain relief medication – rather than what they think is right. Can we take our pain killers without eating first? It turns out we can. Are all pain relievers the same, and appropriate for all of us? Absolutely not.  This is why it’s so important a conversation takes place.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn, a GP who sits on the Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals painted a vivid picture of people who smoke – and why they do it. For some it’s genetics and the ‘reward pathway’ which increases levels of dopamine in their brain; for others it’s cue-induced cravings like coffee or just the generally positive feelings these people get when they inhale. I didn’t know that 75% of smokers want to quit, but the success rate of trying to do it on their own is extremely low. In fact, 50% of quitters will relapse after 12 months.  Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants who sat in that room with me will take this information and apply it to their customers – people who need professional guidance and support to finally give up and live a healthier life.

Pharmacists also know a lot about the different types of people who walk through their pharmacy doors. Grocery channels like Woolworths and Coles have put their kit on and walked onto their playing field. It’s no secret that Woolworths is looking at healthcare as a source of growth in the coming years.

According to Dr Gary Mortimer from the Queensland University of Technology Business School, pharmacists ask “who walks through my door instead of going to supermarket, and why are they doing it?” Interestingly, Dr Mortimer says the real opportunity for pharmacy and supermarkets is affluent people aged 55 and over. He also highlighted that the basic fundamentals of relationships with people – trust, legitimacy and value – are what differentiate a pharmacist from a shelf-stacker in aisle four. Supermarkets simply can’t operate in this space; professional advice from a real person cannot be addressed with signage and a shelf wobbler. 

Perhaps Dr John Bell from the PSA Self Care Program summed it up best: “Optimal staff selection and training is likely to be the greatest asset and most important investment for ensuring pharmacy success.”

Or put more simply: “employing the right people, trained by the best people, to give the best possible help and advice to people who need it.”

I vote for a name change – APPP in 2013!

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Competition or the cause?

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A story about a well-known Australian with media connections voicing a Community Service Announcement (CSA) caught the eye of the Cube team last week.

The Daily Telegraph reported on leading Sydney radio station 2GB’s decision not to run a CSA for little-known charity Retina Australia because it used the voice of the charity’s NSW patron, Don Burke. The reason? As it turns out, Burke has a weekend gardening show on rival station 2UE.

2UE's Don Burke

2GB went one step further and declared it would not air any rivals’ voices on its airwaves.

Unsurprisingly, this decision provoked an emotional response from Burke, who claimed the decision was ‘deeply hurtful’, especially as his name is not announced and it’s just his voice. The article also jolted the newspaper’s online readers into action, attracting in excess of 40 comments, most of which supported Burke and dismissed 2GB’s position.

This decision by 2GB raises an important, often unasked question – should competitive issues be set aside in the Australian media when the aim of the communication initiative is to raise vital funds for a charitable organisation? Or is it fair to put the needs of business before greater benefit?

Celebrities are engaged by companies and charities to help highlight a specific health cause more often than not – and their involvement is particularly crucial for organisations like Retina Australia who are inevitably deemed less ‘sexy’ (and therefore un-newsworthy) by the media.

The decision on who to use is often based on a combination of the celebrity’s personal connection to the cause and ability to attract the desired media attention – referred to in journalist circles as their ‘media currency’. If the chosen celebrity also has a regular column in a magazine, or fronts a television program, this is usually viewed as a positive by-product of the agreement.

Ironically, Retina Australia has received far more publicity from the decision taken not to air their CSA than would have been achieved through simply airing the CSA itself. But the situation does highlight celebrity affiliations to media won’t always lead to widespread coverage and that, in some instances, it can hinder – rather than help – the ability of communications professionals to spread a valid, important message far and wide.

This highlights how important it is to consider media outlet competition as well as cause connections and media currency when drawing up the shortlist of celebrities for a campaign.

Tell us what you think below!

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Health literacy in Australia… as easy as ABC?

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Health literacy in Australia... as easy as ABC? Cube PR blog

Health literacy in Australia... as easy as ABC? Cube PR blog

For all of us working in the healthcare industry, it is easy to focus all our attention on the development and delivery of information to patients and the general public at large. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must also pay attention to how that information will be received and understood – a process referred to as ‘health literacy’. At last week’s FROCOMM Health Communications, Marketing & Media Conference, the topic took centre stage – what it is, how Australia is fairing and ways to improve it.

Search the internet and you will find a plethora of information on health literacy, ranging from official Government-funded reports to blogs which ask why Australia, a nation obsessed with health, lags behind, albeit slightly, other first-world countries such as Canada.

Health literacy is described as a person’s ability to use health information effectively. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provides a more detailed definition - “the knowledge and skills required to understand and use information relating to health issues such as drugs and alcohol, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies and staying healthy”.

Health literacy has become an increasing focus in recent years amongst Government and academics. The latest version of the ABS ‘Health Literacy, Australia’ report delves deep into demographic distinctions and, whilst it’s not hugely surprising that people with higher formal education attainment achieve higher levels of health literacy, age does have a significant impact. Health literacy it increases from 15 to 39 years, then decreases for those ages 40 and over. The ABS report surmises this is because aging causes physical, psychological and social change.

Just last year, two reports into health literacy were released, both unveiling worrying findings. The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) report found six out of every 10 Australians would experience difficulty in understanding or making the choices necessary to stay healthy, or to find their way round the health system. Similarly, a study by Australian doctors at the University of Adelaide stated many people do not understand basic health information.

That is enough of the problem – what are the potential solutions? At the FROCOMM conference a number of people representing universities and industry associations offered their views. Peter Waterman from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia encourages people to search through the society’s Pharmacy Self Care program online, which has over 80 separate factsheets on topics as diverse as Alzheimer’s, antibiotics and alcohol. The Society also recently set up a Facebook page in an attempt to have as more direct dialogue with consumers.

Deon Schoombie from the Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) agrees consumers should seek to have a direct dialogue with their healthcare professional. He also highlighted social media as the ideal way to engage publicly and directly with people as it is about them and allows the health system to offer a tailored message, bringing the system closer to a real conversation/interaction. ASMI recently launched a Facebook page, Twitter profile and regular blog, demonstrating their tangible belief in this viewpoint.

All FROCOMM panellists agreed that better education in schools is critical as is making the health system more accessible. (Backing up this viewpoint, the NHHRC report also recommends health literacy be included as a core element in the curriculum for both primary and secondary schools).

The provision of information in a consumer-friendly and engaging manner and connecting consumers with HCPs quickly was also discussed. Professor Clare Collins from the Dietitians Association of Australia believes flexibility of information delivery will help ensure it captures the attention of the target population – for example, SMS texting for younger populations.

Is getting Australia’s health literacy levels to the standard they should be as easy as ABC? Not quite, but addressing the issue must remain a priority to ensure Australia remains a truly healthy nation. As part of Australia’s healthcare industry, we have a unique opportunity to help in a tangible way  by ensuring we focus on the 3 d’s with all communications materials – developing, delivering and perhaps most importantly, deciphering.

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The rise of the responsible blogger

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It’s hard to believe blogging began just over ten years ago, primarily as online diaries for a handful of people. In its purest form the blog is a relatively easy way for you and I (the ‘citizen journalist’) to communicate to interested people about any topic we like in a format where having an opinion matters more than being objective. 

Recently, the blog format has migrated into the mass media space, with the format increasingly utilised by traditional media outlets to present news and current affairs online. The first known use of a blog on a news site was in August 1998, when Jonathan Dube of The Charlotte Observer in the United States published one chronicling Hurricane Bonnie. But it was the Iraq war that saw blogging rise in popularity amongst journalists, with many providing a ‘real life, real time’ image of the conflict via their online diaries.

The divide between traditional journalism and blogging is often seen as a chasm rather than a crack, particularly in terms of accuracy and quality. But discussions at last week’s Frocomm Digital Conference challenged the view that all blogs are created equal. 

While bloggers themselves were once seen as ‘media mavericks’, one of Australia’s key bloggers discussed the fact that many bloggers choose to adhere to the commandments of their journalistic counterparts. Duncan Riley, respected blogger and editor of The Inquisitr reiterated the ‘content is king’ mantra, stressing the importance of accuracy and objectiveness. Mr Riley claims his blog jumps through more ‘editorial hoops’ than some of the stories found on sites like news.com.au, which he argues could be seen as content filters rather than content creators.

Rise of the responsible blogger

However, he also admits that “quality blogs don’t get the traction, influential stuff does.” Monty Hamilton, Head of Online at Ubank agreed, labelling the merging of quality and influence “engagement value – what can we offer the blogger that will engage their audience and ultimately attract new followers?”

We are undoubtedly witnessing a closing of the great divide between the blog and traditional media coverage. In the United States alone, an overwhelming 89% of journalists admit to researching and/or sourcing a story from a blog. (Conversely, Duncan Riley would rather his blog was “picked up on Twitter than by the mainstream media” as the power of attracting more followers is greater).

Whatever your personal view, blogs will continue to grow in number and influence, offering healthcare communicators a unique avenue to reach a specific target audience who are interested and highly motivated by what they read – providing that ‘engagement value’ in a way no traditional mass media outlet can.

In the age of the ‘healthsumer’ and at a time when the traditional flow of information has been turned on its head, the question will not be whether to engage with the blogosphere or not, but rather who to appropriately interact with and how to do it.

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Will you be love sick – or love well – this Valentine’s Day?

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As Saint Valentine shines his bow and sharpens his arrow in preparation for a pop at lovers around the world on Sunday 14th February, the question on everyone’s pursed lips is this: is love good or bad for your health?valentines_day

Take the time to Google the topic and you will come across a wide range of opinions – for some it can cure all our ills, yet for others it’s the very cause of them.

If you are a believer in love and its positive powers, you’d be forgiven for wondering why modern medicine exists at all. Expert comment and research draws conclusions including ‘love makes you smarter’ (as it improves memory by triggering brain cells), ‘love helps fight cancer’ (promoting killer cell activity), ‘love is good for your heart’ (makes it beats faster and increases blood supply whilst lowers blood pressure) and even the Holy Grail, ‘love makes you live longer’ (scarily, social isolation increases the risk of early death).

Based on this high-level science, how could anyone claim love is bad for you? Google doesn’t make it too easy to find scientific information on the lower points of love. But it does readily offer in one long list the plethora of popular music dedicated to the downsides of dating.

In 1960 The Everly Brothers were blunt in their summations (Love Hurts) and Jon Bon Jovi sang about love being ‘bad medicine’ in the 1980s. More recently, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks asked “why does love always feels like a battlefield?”

And we’ve all been party – directly or indirectly – to a conversation where one half of a couple claims emphatically that the other will in fact ‘be the death’ of them.

Whatever your relationship status perhaps it’s wisest to take note of Whitney Houston’s 1986 smash hit song – The Greatest Love of All – where she claimed it was simply learning to love yourself.

Well, at least until Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie arrives. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Do we really care about self-care?

Do We Really Care About Self-Care?

Do We Really Care About Self-Care?

Ssshhhh – listen carefully and you’ll undoubtedly hear a lot of noise in Australia right now about ‘self-care’ and ‘preventative health’.

The Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) recently released a Position Paper entitled ‘Increasing Access to Medicines to Enhance Self Care’, calling for Government and other stakeholders to make increased access to medicines a “fundamental plank of the emerging health policy landscape” as well as a more patient-centred approach to primary care – so all Australians can take greater control of managing own health where appropriate.

Encouragingly, the Minister for Health & Aging Nicola Roxon has been particularly vocal on the topic of self-care. She’s highlighted the need for industry and key organisations to drive change in preventative health, with reference to the Australian Preventative Health Legislation currently before the parliament and the draft National Primary Health Care Strategy.

Earlier this month, Ms Roxon attended ASMI’s annual conference and reiterated the Rudd Government’s commitment to ensuring Australians have the “support mechanisms” – such as access to medicines and services – to take better control of their own health. She also talked about the need for greater investment in “health literacy”.  (Worryingly, half of the Australian population is deemed illiterate within this context).

Nobody can argue there is much conversation, documentation and debate which is a definite step in the right direction. But when are we going to get some action and see policies become practice?

As Ms Roxon rightly reiterated, “good health requires individual and collective action”.

Speakers at the ASMI conference represented pharmaceutical companies, industry bodies and academia. All communicated a variety of views but they fundamentally agreed an evolution of Australia’s healthcare system, rather than a revolution, is what’s needed to achieve our self-care aims.

The right tools are in the self-care toolbox; we only need to tweak the way we deploy them. For example, a recent study revealed shifting treatment of the most frequent minor ailments from doctors to pharmacists would free up between 3 and 7 per cent of Australia’s GP workforce.

Do we care about self-care? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Now all stakeholders need to turn talk into tactics; only then can we all really believe the decision makers practice what they preach.

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Better in the good old days?

Enjoy the game by - Ahmed Rabea

Enjoy the game by - Ahmed Rabea

It’s very tempting to look back on the past with rose-coloured glasses and see things as so much better ‘in the good old days’. We’ve all been party to conversations where people talk of how great life was when the pace was slower, there was less pollution, and we could reap the benefits of being part of a close-knit community.

But can we really take this view when it comes to our health and wellbeing?

Modern medicines have led a revolution in improving the health of millions. A dose of the flu now means treatment with antivirals or a course of antibiotics and a few days in bed rather than an influenza epidemic that kills millions.

A sore throat or headache? With more and more medicines being made available outside of the prescription setting, we can decide how and when to treat these so-called minor ailments. It’s off to the pharmacy or supermarket to buy a suitable treatment that will fix us up fast, without needing to make an appointment to see our GP.

We also have access to a plethora of health information, largely thanks to the internet. This vast online library has revolutionised our mindset, jolting us out of a passive passenger mentality where the word of the GP was gospel, and creating a nation of ‘healthsumers’ who want to know what’s really happening to their bodies.

Whilst online research and amateur investigation doesn’t replace the role of a qualified healthcare professional like a GP or pharmacist, it does allow us all to have an active role in knowing what’s up when we’re down, and how to fix it.

Better in the good old days? I for one feel much better now.

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