Learning from Our Family Planning Colleagues

Content From: AIDS.govPublished: June 03, 20084 min read


Here at HIV.gov, we’ve learned two things over and over: Health care providers are often really excited by the possibilities of “new media”; and they have a lot of questions about what this actually means in the day-to-day functions of a program or clinic.

In April, Miguel Gomez, director of HIV.gov, gave a presentation on new media at the Office of Population Affairs’ HIV/AIDS conference. Those attending the conference were from Federally funded organizations trying to integrate HIV-prevention services into family planning programs.

The presentation generated a lot of good questions—and in the discussion that followed, Miguel asked over 40 attendees to share what they most wanted to know about new media and their biggest challenges in adopting or using it.

Most were excited about using new media—especially text messaging or social networking sites to reach clients—but many were either unfamiliar with new media tools and how they work, or they didn’t know how to assess which tool was right for their purposes.

We learned a lot from our colleagues at that conference, and we thought it might be helpful to share their thoughts and concerns.

Participants asked for help in these key areas:

  • How to use text messaging to connect with clients
  • How to improve website quality
  • How to use social networks (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) to interact with clients
  • How to use video games and/or virtual worlds (e.g., Second LifeExit Disclaimer) to interact with clients
  • Where to locate online forms and survey tools
  • What new media tools to use and to buy

Key Questions

The HIV.gov team offered these responses:

  • Using text messaging to connect with clients: A number of our partners and local family planning organizations are using text messaging to send appointment reminders and medication dosing schedules to clients.
  • Improving website quality: We urged participants to engage in usability studies, which can be done with as few as 5 to 6 people. The important thing is to ask your clients what they want you to do, and then to do it well.
  • Social networking: It is important to check with clients about their needs/expectations around social networking, which takes work to keep current and relevant. Privacy issues are real (for example, staff must consider the implications of putting private things on their accounts), but posting personal information often builds trust with clients.
  • Gaming: Preliminary research indicates that there are real possibilities for using gaming to educate gamers about HIV. See our recent blog posts on gaming.
  • Using and buying new media tools: Which tools to use takes knowledge of your audience and a strong sense of what you are trying to accomplish. In some cases, free software is adequate to do what you want to do.

Facing the Challenges

  • Feeling overwhelmed/underqualified: It is easy to feel that you have to learn everything all at once, but the important thing is to figure out exactly what you are trying to do, and then find the best tool to help you do that. New media tools should lighten your workload in other areas, not burden you with something else. If your new media work isn’t replacing something else you have been doing, you may want to consider whether you should use it.
  • Getting buy-in: You will have a better chance of getting the support you need from management when you can show them the facts about new media usage by those you serve. A lot of people have misconceptions about who is using new media and who has access to it. For example, many believe there is a digital divideExit Disclaimer that affects women, people of color, seniors, and the economically disadvantaged. Studies show, however, that the vast majority of almost all those groups are now using new media. Show the data to your management and you are very likely to get the support you need.
  • Confidentiality: We are gathering more information on this important topic. Persons and entities subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) must comply with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, which includes implementing administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect the privacy of individuals’ health information. There are ways to project a client’s rights while text messaging. We will post on this in the future. For information on the HIPAA Privacy Rule https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/, and for information on electronic health information cms.gov/SecurityStandard.

As part of the follow-up from this discussion, Miguel agreed to give a webcast presentation on the use of new media for family planning agencies in New England. The recording will be available on www.famplan.orgExit Disclaimer soon.

Moving Forward

As always, our most important advice for our colleagues and partners is “Look before you leap!” Using new media requires realizing that time and staff commitment are necessary to use it well. Start with what you want to accomplish, and then direct your efforts toward the new media tool(s) that will help you achieve your goals.

Our question for you is this: What does your organization hope/expect to accomplish using new media? Please share your answers with us!

Stay tuned for next week’s discussion of virtual worlds and public health.