Faces of Public Health: Carmen Nevarez of Dialogue4Health

Aug 15, 2011, 7:36 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe. Today’s profile is Carmen Nevarez, M.D., M.P.H. creator and project director of Dialogue4Health and immediate past president of the American Public Health Association.

Dialogue4Health (D4H), a project of the Public Health Institute, is a web-based forum aimed at creating healthy communities. Participants span the range of everyone interested in public health, from parks and recreation employees to community organizers and retail food distributors. The forum encourages discussion, and offers regular webinars on topics such as health reform. NewPublicHealth spoke with Carmen Nevarez, M.D., M.P.H., the creator and project director of D4H.

NewPubicHealth: Can you give us the broad view of Dialogue4Health?

Dr. Nevarez: Through its interactive website, Dialogue4Health provides a unique forum for developing relationships, ideas, and expanding the virtual network of those working to improve health. D4H conducts regular web forums that invite multiple sectors together in conversation on topics that matter to health in its broadest sense, via webinar. Some web forums are structured as "Town Hall Meetings" with much fuller participation available. The site also maintains a social network open to all those interesting in connecting and sharing values, visions and ideas about strategies that can broadly improve health. Our networking tools are free of charge.

NPH: When did the project start?

Dr. Nevarez: We built the capacity about three years ago. The idea was, let’s try and use the internet in a way that blends some features of TED Talks and some features of Talk of the Nation [the NPR news interview show] and build a station. If you join us live, you are encouraged to do two things. One is participate in the polls that we put out during the meeting, but the second is to join in by asking your questions of the speakers. And then, following the web forum we direct everybody over to the integrated social network site for further conversations on the topics and also for the answers to any questions that weren’t able to be answered by the panel. You know, there are always a couple of really good questions that just don’t get answered.

NPH: And what key changes have you made?

Dr. Nevarez: We found was that after creating this entire site there probably were a lot of other people who might want to use the site for different kinds of work that they were doing, and so we formed a series of relationships and partnerships across the country and even reached out internationally to help bring the capacity to others who have similar agendas so that they can also engage a large audience. Our subscription list right now is over 9,000 and we also have broadened internationally with a series that we call our global health series. We started that off with a web forum on the status of informatics in Cuba and then did one on women and health on International Women’s Day, and others on health in Afghanistan. So, we have a pretty broad listening audience all the way from governments clear down through the grassroots.

NPH: What forum topic has gotten the most participation?

Dr. Nevarez: The largest public webinar was one about health reform in partnership with APHA, Trust for America’s Health, PolicyLink and the Prevention Institute. We’re trying to help build a constituency and broad understanding about health reform, the Affordable Care Act and why it’s critical for prevention.

NPH: What’s next?

Dr. Nevarez: We’re going to have a webinar on transportation – transit hub development in San Francisco. The CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, Sandra Hernandez, who’s a former public health officer director of San Francisco City, is pulling together a team, a pretty heavy duty team to talk about transportation and health. And we have another one coming up on health reform. We’re trying to be very timely. And we’ll be having a webinar in September highlighting the November 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health about a series of articles on environmental change strategies targeting obesity.

NPH: And, what are your other personal projects at the Public Health Institute?

Dr. Nevarez: I’m the principal investigator on a project to look at the issue of hospital readmissions and how technology can help to avoid readmissions. I’m also working in the area of teen pregnancy prevention to look what kinds of strategies Western Europeans use to keep the kinds of very low teen birth rates that they have, how applicable they are in this country, and how to convince the California legislature on the need for funding these kinds of programs. Personally I have a broad set of interests and I’ve been working in public health a long time, so fortunately it’s all starting to come together.

Public health has tremendous value, but we have a very, very hard time in communicating that value to the public at large. We often sound preachy when we should be not sounding preachy; I think that because of this we marginalize our message. But I think our message is very critical and when you break it down into pieces that are relevant to people’s daily lives that they understand that.

A key challenge is speaking to non-public health audiences, which I do and that’s where a crucial opportunity lies to break down what we in public health spend our lives working on in a way that people can understand why it’s their issue and not just our issue. I think that this is probably the most important message that I would give, having worked in public health for about almost 30 years now. I think that we’ll never really have the kind of impact we could have until we get over that hump of connecting what we do to non-public health audiences.

>>See a list of upcoming Dialogue4Health web forums and archive of previous forums here.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.