WHO EPI-WIN webinar: Communicating risks and evidence in a Public Health Emergency (2)

17 September, 2021

[Note from HIFA moderator (Neil): Our thanks to Richard for representing HIFA at the event on 14 September. Below is the the first of his observations. A recording of the webinar is now available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za0t0B-jP1Q ]

Communicating risks and evidence in a Public Health Emergency

WHO Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN), World Health Organization, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication Cambridge University, Harding Centre for Risk Literacy Koch University Berlin

Winton motto - To inform and not persuade

How to present quantified evidence in different contexts

There is a spectrum of information that ranges from sharing absolute and complete truth - informed consent in medicine, sworn testament in courts - to pure advertising, sales and PR. Public Health has a difficult task deciding where particular messages lie on the spectrum of information to persuasion. Communicating to decision makers may be different to communicating to individuals.

It is helpful to consider whether the communicator wishes to achieve:

- Does the communicator want the recipient audience to understand or to believe? Does the communicator want the recipient audience to be better informed or to change their behaviour?

- Is the communicator giving information or sending a message? Does the communicator want to be a trustworthy source of information or trusted (relied upon?).

Absolute and relative risks � format of information and how to present figurres

Numbers mean little to people when stripped of context. What kind of contexts are successful? What are the effects of contexts? The type of person (age, gender, disease group etc) and the level of risk seem to be important. It is important to attempt to discover what kind of context your audience might prefer (see culture later). Audiences prefer visualization.

Information should be evidence based and transparent. Fact boxes improve knowledge and understanding. They are useful and successful visualization tools and should be informative and not persuasive. Fact boxes are usually embedded in accompanying text.

Visualization is intended to help low numerate people or people with low literacy skills to help them compare benefits and harms.

Five rules for evidence and risk communication

Prevent data fully and clearly. Record risks and benefits, Consider a PROVE matrix

P - Pre-empt misinformation and misunderrstanding (Think ahead, andd if possible research, about what misinformation and misunderstandings the audience may already have.)

R - Reliably inform - Inform and not persuade

O - Offer accurate balance and not falsee balance

V - Verify quality - State evidence quality - 'a man told me in the lift' to '100,000 patient peer reviewed trial' etc!)

E - Explain uncertainty - disclose uncerttainties.

This will be an iterative process


Below are the resources that were mentioned during the presentations:

Communicating personalized risks from COVID-19: guidelines from an empirical study: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.201721

Five rules for evidence communication: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03189-1


Effect of information about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and side effects on behavioural intentions: two online experiments: https://doi.org/10.3390/vaccines9040379

Risk communication in tables versus text: a registered report randomized trial on ‘fact boxes': https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190876


HIFA profile: Richard Fitton is a retired family doctor - GP, British Medical Association. Professional interests: Health literacy, patient partnership of trust and implementation of healthcare with professionals, family and public involvement in the prevention of modern lifestyle diseases, patients using access to professional records to overcome confidentiality barriers to care, patients as part of the policing of the use of their patient data

Email address: richardpeterfitton7 AT gmail.com