Consistency is Key to Effective Communication

In the throes of the never-ending COVID-19 crisis, Americans continue to seek answers and clarification on the best way to protect themselves. The problem is, there is more than one expert and more than one opinion on the best approach to take, whether regarding vaccines or other protocols.

Consistency is a big concern when it comes to government and medical advice, and it’s especially important to efforts to stem the tide of COVID-19 cases. However, expert messaging and directions have been rife with inconsistencies.

In “An Analysis of Government Communication in the United States During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Recommendations for Effective Government Health Risk Communication” in World Medical & Health Policy, authors Do Kyun David Kim and Gary L. Kreps offer this key observation:

“Governments throughout the world can learn many critical lessons from examining instances of ineffective communication with the public during the global coronavirus disease (COVID‐19) pandemic. Ineffective government communication has resulted in a great deal of public confusion and misunderstanding, as well as serious errors in responding to this evolving health threat, leading to disastrous health and social outcomes for the public and prolonging the pandemic, especially within the United States.”

In my opinion, there is no single best course to take to combat this virus. Many approaches are being discussed, and the federal government has solidly landed on the vaccination route. It has driven this message hard to the public and medical providers. However, many people are confused by the variety of messages and options they are presented with on a daily basis. Do you need the booster? Is it OK not to wear a mask when you’re around vaccinated people? Why didn’t we anticipate this?

Government health officials and medical practitioners have created this confusion by offering an array of recommendations from the thousands of experts who are dealing with COVID-19. One key principle in the communications industry is consistency of message, and that has not occurred. These wildly varied opinions have only added interference to the communication channels, leading to rumor mongering and fear.

In “Importance of effective communication during COVID-19 infodemic,” an editorial in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, authors B. Venkatashiva Reddy and Arti Gupta argue the most important way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to empower people with the right information, but today’s overabundance of information is leading to an “infodemic.”

It’s unrealistic to think we would have a smooth and effective communications plan for COVID-19. There are too many experts and too many recommendations, and we lack collective experience with a pandemic to effectively handle one. The reality may be that COVID-19 variants will be with us for a long time.

Will we have a “moving on” moment where individuals and health professionals accept COVID-19 as just another flu-like illness? Only time will tell. Will we receive consistent communications on the best path to handle whatever comes our way? Highly unlikely.

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