Faces of Public Health: CDC's Karen Morrione

Dec 21, 2011, 3:25 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

The redesign of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website home page, launched last week, is a small part of the CDC’s social media efforts. NewPublicHealth spoke to Karen Morrione, Senior Adviser for Research and Strategy in the electronic media branch at CDC, about new efforts and the reasons they are important for helping improve health in the U.S.

NewPublicHealth: Why did CDC recently redesign its home page?

Karen Morrione: We wanted a much more modern look and I think we got it. We also wanted to make sure that we incorporated our social media into the home page.

NPH: What makes exposing site users to social media so prominently so critical?

Karen Morrione: One of the things we’ve learned from recent research is that people who need health information are typically getting that health information as much online and through social media as they are from their physicians. So, it’s important for CDC to be where people are looking for information. In fact, that has been our guiding vision in electronic media for quite some time. We want to be where our citizens are. We want to make sure that they have access to us no matter what channel they’re looking at and no matter how they prefer to consume their information. Electronic media is successful when it helps people make positive behavior change. And the most important thing is to have information that is evidence-based and is credible.

NPH: What next in the CDC’s plans for electronic innovation?

Karen Morrione: Well, we are actually launching an iPad app, hopefully in the not too distant future, and it is going to be a collection of our CDC information in some of our most popular journals. We have done research that shows that physicians are becoming much more digital media-savvy, and they are using digital media much more frequently in the actual patient discussion where they’re meeting with their patients and providing treatment advice. And so, we want to be at the physician’s fingertips in a form that they can consume and use and that they can share with their patients, and we feel like an iPad app is something we have to do to be in that space.

NPH: What else?

Karen Morrione: We are continuing to look at our mobile website. There are security and technology hurdles that government faces that private industry does not, so we are not at the point where we can automatically detect what device someone is using and send them to the correct website, whether it’s our mobile website or our main website, but we do want to make that happen in 2012.

And one of the biggest things that we are working on, and we’ve been working on it for quite some time, is our content syndication project. So even if we are not someone's go-to health website, our hope is that people will syndicate our content and our information will show up [on other websites where people are finding health information]. And the great thing about syndication is when the content is updated on our site that updates ripples through every site that it’s syndicated on simultaneously.

NPH: Where especially would you like to see the content syndicated?

Karen Morrione: We would love to see it syndicated everywhere! Health departments are a primary target and the real benefit for them is it gives them a way to keep their websites current and up to date, but it makes the most efficient use of the people they have available to manage their websites. They get great, fresh, credible evidence-based content with minimal effort.

NPH: When you sit at the table to talk about pushing out electronic media to help inform and change and improve the health behaviors, which are among the key people in the conversation?

Karen Morrione: Key participants come from our senior leadership, including our director Dr. Frieden, and our deputy director Dr. Arias. They’re both very, very interested in the power of electronic media to reach people, in large part because the mobile space and the social media space, and especially social media on mobile devices, are where some of our traditionally underserved audiences are actually embracing those technologies faster. For example, African Americans and Hispanics are actually embracing social media tools on mobile devices in much larger numbers percentage-wise than Caucasians.

NPH: Often because they don’t necessarily have access to a computer?

Karen Morrione: That’s true. That’s why reaching more audiences with more information that they can actually put into practice in their own lives is an important part of our mission to make people safer and healthier everywhere. It’s very efficient for us, it’s very cost-effective for us, and even though, as you know, it takes a whole lot of people to do electronic media well because there are so many moving parts and pieces, CDC is very committed to continuing to do that.

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