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It's time to leverage relationships for promoting improved women's health

By Tiffiney Gray

I have a question for the women of Greater Waco. Where do you get your health information? Is it from your mom, your aunts, or your girlfriends? If so, you’re not alone.

National surveys have shown that women regularly seek healthcare advice from family and peers. But what does this mean for identifying fibroids, treating chlamydia, addressing painful — near debilitating — menstrual cramps, screening for cervical cancer, or planning when and under what circumstances to have children? How well are family and peers equipped to advise on these health matters?

Based on a 2017 series of focus groups and the 2019 Waco-McLennan County Community Health Needs Assessment, there are lots of women in Waco who need to understand where to access accurate health information and receive medical care to protect their health. When Suma Marketing asked Waco-McLennan County women how they access women’s health care services, most of them didn’t know where to go.

This means we have an opportunity to educate and inform women about where, when, and how to seek medical care. Seeking care regularly and on time — through an annual well-woman exam or by getting prenatal care in the first trimester — is critical to prevent disease, to ensure the best outcomes for babies, and to diagnose and treat illnesses as early as possible.

We also have an opportunity to better equip more people in our community with foundational women’s health information. Health is central to our ability to function and thrive at school, at work, and at home. And women’s health is the basis for advancing families, communities, and countries.

So, why don’t most of us have better information about women’s health? How can we ensure that the moms, aunts, and friends who are solicited for health advice are sharing accurate information?

One approach falls under the purview of a larger, more comprehensive movement called integration of primary care and public health. This approach unitesthe tradition of public health education with the medical expertise of primary care.

Community health workers, peer educators, and family members can all function in a health education role. The reality is that family and friends — including teens — are already serving as de facto health educators. The question is, are they providing accurate information? And if not, what are we going to do about it?

The answer lies in the delivery system. Right now, we are narrowly relying on medical institutions to be the sole proprietor of accurate health information. But medical professionals can’t do it alone. What we’ve learned from decades of research is that health messages have to come from trusted sources — the people with whom we have meaningful relationships.

To better address issues of equity in women’s health ranging from breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers, maternal mortality and even teen pregnancy prevention, we must broaden the number of access points and messengers to deliver accurate information and motivational support to sustain health.

For teen pregnancy prevention it may look like teen health educators in schools, in churches, and other natural access points where we find young people.

For childbirth spacing, it may be peers (other moms) in Mommy meetup groups, staffers at child care centers where moms drop off infants, or even caseworkers in Child Care Services offices.

For other women’s health issues, it could be hair and nail salons, clothing boutiques, Bible study groups, and other social gathering places that women frequent.

Advertisers have figured out how to target their audience by running ads on the websites or social media pages that their audience visits most — even down to the peak times of day they visit them. Advertisers have also leveraged influencers, individuals who reach a substantial number of people that trust in their opinions of products, services, and information to carry messages for them.

What can we learn from this? Perhaps it’s time we leverage the people who are existing influencers in the women’s health space — family, friends, hairstylists — to strengthen the delivery of health information in Waco. We can do this by using these informal networks to convey the best information on women’s health.

Tiffany Gray is senior content specialist for health initiatives at Prosper Waco.


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