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Book Review: This Changes Everything

Book cover: Health Communication in the New Media Landscape

Parker JC and Thorson E. Health Communication in the New Media Landscape. New York: Springer Publishing; 2009.

In contemplating the growing technology that was transforming science, conservation biologist Michael Soul stated, “Since we have no choice but to be swept along by [this] vast technological surge, we might as well learn to surf.1” Jerry Parker and Esther Thorson, both from the University of Missouri, would agree. In a collaboration between medicine and journalism (Parker is the associate dean of research at Missouri’s School of Medicine; Thorson is dean of the School of Journalism), Parker and Thorsen provide a comprehensive set of recommendations to health care professionals, public health officials, and health communication experts attempting to realize the full potential of new media technologies in health communication.

The result is an impressive collection of essays by 41 academics, medical professionals, and policymakers that offers a broad and comprehensive set of recommendations for using technology to its fullest.

For those less familiar with standard health communication theory and application, the book begins with a section that serves as an advanced primer of sorts, with chapters covering worldwide health status, health care models, and racial and cultural disparities along with a compact summation of current theory and emerging trends. From there, the focus remains firmly on the topic at hand, with practical approaches to everything from enhancing consumer involvement to e-health for persons with chronic conditions. Although each chapter provides a broad enough overview for the uninformed, the chapters move quickly to identifying (and succssfully using) technological tools to accomplish the multiple goals of health. For example, Christina Zarcadoolas, an assistant professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, partners with health literacy expert and author Andrew Pleasant to introduce the use of geographic information systems (GIS) mapping for emergency preparedness and introduce the “health literacy load analysis,” a structural and functional analysis for clarifying the demands of health-related material on consumers.

"One theme that resounds throughout the book is the acknowledgment that the new media has already affected the ways in which American health consumers think about health and health care. The future has already arrived – at issue is how well those in the field of medicine and health care are able to respond."

Another good example is found in the chapter by Missouri doctoral student Petya Eckler and physicians Gregory M. Worsowicz and Katherine Downey on physician-patient communication. Quickly bringing readers up to date on the concept and its theoretical underpinnings, they move quickly to explore the new tools of e-mail, telemedicine, online health information, and cell phone communication. As in many of the chapters in the book, the authors avoid the star-struck wonder of a teenage boy in a Best Buy store; the challenges, barriers, and even cautions are clearly identified, and the trade-offs between technological abilities and effective communication are often discussed.

The final section outlines the future, and includes a superb chapter on evidence-based communication messages and knowledge translation by Boston University’s E. Sally Rogers and Marianne Farkas.

One theme that resounds throughout the book is the acknowledgment that the new media has already affected the ways in which American health consumers think about health and health care. The future has already arrived – at issue is how well those in the field of medicine and health care are able to respond.

1 Soule M. In: Western D and Pearl Mc, eds. Conservation for the 21st Century, New York: Oxford University Press; 1989.