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Breast cancer: From awareness to action

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a campaign backed by the World Health Organization1 as well as numerous brands, and is marked in countries throughout the world1. The aim is to increase attention and awareness of breast cancer and through this improve early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care1.

Awareness campaigns are particularly relevant in countries with limited health infrastructure — with mammography screening being costly, detection of breast cancer is sometimes reliant on individual awareness of the early signs and symptoms14

Worldwide, there are an estimated 1.67 million new cases on breast cancer per year2. This makes it the second most common cancer in the world and the most frequent among women2,3. In several countries, mortality has decreased since the mid-1990s but in some parts of the world the number of deaths has remained constant or is even increasing2. In developing regions, breast cancer remains the most frequent cause of cancer death in women with over 500,000 deaths recorded in 20122.

breast cancer signs symptomsIn healthcare settings that support early detection and that have basic treatment available, localized breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of over 80%4. In contrast, in settings with limited resources the five-year survival rate drops to 10–40%4. Differences in survival rates mirror the awareness of breast cancer — in low- and middle-income countries most women are frequently diagnosed in the late stages of the disease1, something that might be reduced with increased access to health services and with greater awareness from both the public and healthcare providers of the benefit of early detection1. For information on the use of mammography in a variety of settings, a WHO position paper is available here. In November, the WHO will publish advice on how countries can improve diagnosis of breast and also other cancers.

Disease awareness campaigns play an established and very real role in realising the potential of modern medicine. The inequality in breast cancer mortality illustrates the discrepancies in out-reach that awareness campaigns may have and the ongoing importance of health literacy and education for awareness. Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a reminder that greater health literacy and education are key to combatting preventable causes of death.

References

1. World Health Organization. Accessed 24th October 2016. http://www.who.int/cancer/events/breast_cancer_month/en/

2. Globocan 2012. Cancer Fact Sheets. Breast. Accessed 24th October 2016. http://globocan.iarc.fr/Pages/fact_sheets_cancer.aspx

3. Globocan 2012. Population Fact Sheets. World. Accessed 24th October 2016. http://globocan.iarc.fr/Pages/fact_sheets_population.aspx

4. World Health Organization. Accessed 24th October 2016. http://www.who.int/cancer/publications/mammography_screening/en/

5. American Cancer Society. Accessed 24th October 2016.  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-signs-symptoms

 

World Alzheimer’s Day: #RememberMe

The 21st of September is World Alzheimer’s Day.1 Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of progressive dementia and occurs in elderly and middle aged people. The most striking feature of the disease is the progressive loss of cognitive abilities. This affects memory, the capability to solve tasks, and it can induce behavioral and emotional changes. This not only affects the lives of those with Alzheimer’s but also the lives of their families and loved ones.2 Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but even as you read this, researchers all over the world are working out new ways to develop novel treatments to reduce symptoms.

 

Someone in the world has developed dementia

by the time you finish reading this sentence

 

Alzheimer’s does not distinguish between gender, ethnicity, or social class. With an increasing average age of life expectancy, Alzheimer’s numbers rise every year. Today 46 million people live with dementia, and this number is expected to reach 74.7 million by 2030.1 This is one of the many reasons why we should care about Alzheimer’s disease.

Aside from staying informed about Alzheimer’s and dementia, here’s what you can do to help raise awareness:mw-blog-alzheimers-day-v00-03-20160921_graphic_1-copy

  • Inspire our communities to take part in Alzheimer’s research
  • Communicate to policy makers the importance of funding Alzheimer’s research and funding programs for treatment, care, and risk-reduction
  • Take part in local events
  • Keep the importance of health literacy and patient education in mind when communicating about Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • Support the World Alzheimer’s Month campaign by visiting their website and using the hashtags #RememberMe and #WAM2016

References

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease International. World Alzheimer’s Day 2016. Accessed September 2016 at: https://www.alz.co.uk/world-alzheimers-month
  2. Alzheimer’s Disease International. World Alzheimer’s Report 2015. Accessed September 2016 at: https://www.worldalzreport2015.org/
  3. Alzheimer’s Disease International. About Dementia. Accessed September 2016 at: http://www.worldalzmonth.org/en/about-dementia

 

 

Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Day

Tomorrow, June 25th, is the first ever Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Day, organised by the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Society. It’s a day where patients, care givers, researchers and society members can come together to share their experiences, to learn about MS and to discover how the Swiss MS Society can offer support each and every day.

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that damages the fatty material called myelin, which is wrapped around your nerves in the central nervous system. Because of the damage, the nerve cells cannot properly communicate with one another, and the signals between the brain and the rest of the body do not travel correctly anymore. Symptoms can vary massively between patients and may include problems with muscle control, balance, vision or speech.

Research

The exact cause of MS remains unknown, but there are many ongoing studies on genetic and non-genetic risk factors, including exposure to viruses, vitamin D levels, smoking and obesity.

Although there is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis at this time, substantial research on this disease is underway. In addition, with the help of various societies, including the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Society, and better treatment options than ever before, quality of life is improving for many MS patients.

Swiss MS Registry

A vital aspect of performing impactful research on the topic of MS is to have good knowledge on the epidemiology of the disease in any given region of the world. Whilst Switzerland has very active ongoing research on MS, a national registry did not, until now, exist. In 2013 the Swiss MS Society partnered with the University of Zurich to initiate and fund a national MS registry for Switzerland.

The goal of the registry is to gather information about MS patients throughout Switzerland, in order to provide a knowledge base that informs both patients and healthcare professionals about strategies for evidence-based and patient-centred care.

Multiple Sclerosis is a variable condition and is different for everyone who has it. Because it is so different for each person, it is important that MS patients share their stories with each other and the public. The collection of these stories are also a part of the new MS registry, and the celebration of the stories will be a part of Swiss MS Day.

«The fate and path of every MS affected person is important to truly understand Multiple Sclerosis. Hence the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Society and the EBP Institute (University of Zurich) will launch the Swiss MS Registry at the first Swiss MS Day in Zurich. The Swiss MS Registry was developed in close collaboration with those who have MS, as well as with medical professionals, in order to improve their quality of life and to one day succeed in finally beating MS.»

Christoph LotterVice Director, Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Society

Swiss MS Day

In celebration of the new registry, the Swiss MS Society is hosting a daylong event dedicated to MS on Swiss MS Day, Saturday, June 25. The first annual national Swiss MS day will showcase the variety of areas the society is working on each day: leisure and quality of life, education and work, therapy and life improvement and knowledge and research. The event will be packed with information and services, special guests, entertainment and hosted by former Miss Switzerland, Christa Rigozzi. The event is free of charge and the agenda, along with other information, can be found on the Swiss MS Society’s website. Medicalwriters.com is the communications partner for the Swiss MS Society. We are proud to support their hard-work and effort to help those with MS throughout Switzerland.

World Health Day 2016: Beat #diabetes

The World Health Organization’s annual World Health Day will be held 7 April, and will tackle the growing global issue of #diabetes.

According to the WHO, the broad goals of making diabetes the focus of #WorldHealthDay2016 are to increase prevention efforts, strengthen care and enhance surveillance. In more detail:

  • Increase awareness about the rise in diabetes, and its staggering burden and consequences, in particular in low-and middle-income countries.
  • Trigger a set of specific, effective and affordable actions to tackle diabetes. These will include steps to prevent diabetes and diagnose, treat and care for people with diabetes.
  • Launch the first global report on diabetes, which will describe the burden and consequences of diabetes and advocate for stronger health systems to ensure improved surveillance, enhanced prevention, and more effective management of diabetes1.

Diabetes_2

That’s because diabetes has become one of the major causes of premature illness and death in most countries, mainly through the increased risk of cardiovascular disease — which itself is responsible for 50–80% of deaths in people with diabetes2. Eighty percent of diabetes deaths occur in developing countries, where the population most frequently affected is between 35 and 642. This means people at relatively young ages are not only dying due to diabetes, but also living with other conditions caused by diabetes, including blindness, lower-limb amputation and kidney failure. Furthermore, reports of type 2 diabetes in children, considered a rare condition in the past, now account for nearly half of newly diagnosed cases in children and adolescents2.

Diabetes_1

However, type 2 diabetes is preventable. It’s a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (which regulates blood sugar) or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. If the cells do not react to insulin properly, by absorbing enough sugar from the blood, glucose builds up to harmful levels. Thus, simple lifestyle measures can be implemented to prevent, delay or help manage type 2 diabetes in many cases: maintaining normal body weight, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet.

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Take the WHO’s quiz to find out how much you know about diabetes. Then join the effort to raise awareness, increase access to diagnosis, spread the word on self-management education, and more with a variety of World Health Day 2016 resources.

References

1. World Health Organization. World Health Day 2016: Beat Diabetes. Accessed March 2016 at: http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2016/event/en/

2. World Health Organization. 10 Facts About Diabetes. Accessed March 2016 at: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/diabetes/facts/en/

 

Power to the people: Make gains by focusing on health literacy

The concept of health literacy is actually fairly new. The term was first introduced in 1974, when Simonds argued that students could also be literate in health, just as they are in other subjects, such as maths or reading1. By the 1990s, the World Health Organization (WHO) had taken up the cause, culminating in the publishing of its own definition of health literacy in 1998’s Health Promotion Glossary2. As governments and health systems make pushes towards more patient-centered care that empower patients to share in making decisions about their treatments, the concept of health literacy has never been more important. Read on for an overview, as well as why pharmaceutical and medical device makers should be focusing on health literacy as part of an overall medical communications strategy.

Defining health literacy

Since the WHO brought health literacy to the world stage, the concept has continued to evolve, inspiring a multitude of research on health literacy in a variety of health conditions and contexts. Researchers are now seeking to integrate existing definitions and conceptualisations of health literacy “into an encompassing model outlining the main dimensions of health literacy as well as its determinants and the pathways to health outcomes,” so that health literacy can be better promoted and measured3. In 2012, researchers created a model that “identifies 12 dimensions of health literacy, referring to the competencies related to accessing, understanding, appraising and applying health information in the domains of healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion, respectively” (see Figure 1)3. This is a straightforward, comprehensive lens through which to view the concept of health literacy, so it’s what we’re referring to going forward.

Figure 1. Dimensions of health literacy

Fig 1a Dimensions of health literacy

The impact of health literacy

As management of chronic illnesses (e.g. diabetes, vascular disease) in particular has come to dominate the global conversation about healthcare, ongoing therapy is often necessary for optimal outcomes. However, health services and clinicians alone cannot be entirely responsible for this burden — patients must also be fully engaged in their care. If they cannot understand what their care regimen is, why a care decision has been made, how to participate in that care, whom to contact about their care, and when to carry out or pursue care options, health outcomes suffer. More specifically, poor health literacy results in:

  • Errors
  • Poor quality of care
  • Risks to patient safety
  • Inability to communicate in public and private dialogues about health, medicine, scientific knowledge and cultural beliefs
  • Lower quality of life
  • Decreased equity and sustainability in health systems3

Without a system-wide focus on health literacy, people with a variety of acute and chronic conditions may not understand health-related educational materials, making them arduous to self-manage. Without proper self-management, patients have a greater risk of developing many secondary health conditions. This can be a colossal expense for the individual and healthcare systems overall. Health literacy is a core foundation for a patient’s ability to self-manage and should be treated as such.

Approaches to health literacy

Low health literacy levels can broadly be addressed by educating persons to become more resourceful (i.e., increasing their personal health literacy), and by making the task or situation less demanding, (i.e., improving the “readability of the system”)3. That is, patients should have a wide variety of options to choose from, to suit their personal situations and learning styles, and these options must be delivered in a way patients can easily understand. More specific examples ways to improve health literacy for patients include:

Blogs — Written in conversational, easily understandable language, blogs are designed to be quick reads on a single aspect of a bigger topic. This approach allows patients to read about the specific information they’re looking for, and link to other related blogs, if they choose. Patients don’t feel overwhelmed by a paper that tries to do everything at once, which helps enhance information retention. The advantage for pharmaceutical and device-makers is that a regularly updated blog helps SEO optimisation, thus keeping the company at the fore of web search results — and at front of mind for patients and clinicians (who often direct patients towards patient education options).

Websites — A well-organised and well-thought-out website delivers a variety of learning modalities to patients. It’s easy to explain concepts visually (e.g. through infographics, pictures or medical illustrations), provide audio explanations for visually impaired patients, and embed videos that let patients follow step-by-step — or even hear stories from patients just like them. A page with downloadable resources lets patients engage in their education and care even when they’re not online. And a mobile-optimised website means they can check for answers to questions anytime, anywhere on their tablets and phones.

Patient education materials — These can be downloadable or more traditional printed resources. Straightforward language and clear visuals can be integrated to help patients, for example, prepare for surgery with a specific device, self-care after that surgery, how to administer diabetes medication, or how and when to take blood pressure readings.

Apps — Apps have the same anytime-anywhere advantage as websites, but they can take health literacy a step farther by making education interactive. Health literacy is not just about being informed, but about how patients are able to apply that information to their everyday lives and care. Apps can be developed to help guide patients through steps in their care — letting them get ‘hands-on’ experience before actually doing — and to integrate reminders about their care regimens and a place to record their care-related activities, for example.

Engaging patients directly in their own care in one or more of these ways positions companies as more than pharmaceutical and device makers, but as thought leaders concerned about patients’ overall wellbeing.

Health literacy never loses its importance

Too often, patient education materials are written at a readability level too advanced for the average patient. Writing medical information in an easily digestible format is not the same as ‘dumbing it down’. Rather, distilling information for patients requires in-depth knowledge of a therapy area or speciality, so that it can be conveyed in a way that is both technically sound and easy for the average patient to follow. Medicalwriters.com has experts across the healthcare spectrum, experienced in delivering a wide variety of educational materials that can help you lead the way in improving health literacy. Remember: Acute and chronic health conditions can occur in all stages of life, to people of all education levels, and health literacy helps optimise outcomes and save lives.

References

1. Simonds SK. Health education as social policy. Health Education Monograph. 1998;2:1–25.

2. World Health Organization. Health Promotion Glossary, 1998. Accessed March 2016 at: http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/about/HPR%20Glossary%201998.pdf

3. Kristine Sørensen, Stephan Van den Broucke, James Fullam, et al. Health literacy and public health: A systematic review and integration of definitions and models. BMC Public Health. 2012;12:80. Accessed March 2016 at: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-12-80

 

Visual Content Marketing: Illustrate the Point

The internet brought power back to the word but, somehow, the pencil got left behind. But now, it’s making a comeback. People are beginning to understand the importance of visuals in their content marketing and are illustrating their words with drawings, animations and infographics.

Visuals are important in not only getting your audience’s attention, they’re critical in getting them to remember you. There’s study after study which show we retain and comprehend information far better with visuals than we do with text alone.

One study has shown that we remember 65% of visual information, but only 10–20% of written or spoken information. YouTube is the perfect example of this as it’s the world’s second most popular search engine – clearly showing that we want to see our information.

 

Learning recall related to type of presentation

PresentationAbility to recall
After 3 hoursAfter 3 days
Spoken lecture25%10-20%
Written (reading)72%10%
Visual and verbal (illustrated lecture)80%65%
Participatory (role plays, case studies, practice)90%70%

Adapted from: Dale 1969.

 

All this holds true for your content marketing. Yes, sharp copy is necessary for thoroughly conveying the details of research and other information, but if you neglect to include drawings, animations and infographics, your message may never get across. It’s time for a new rule of content marketing: Don’t tell, show.

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More than a trend

This preference for visual communication is leading to more and more hand-drawn explanations, or ‘whiteboard animations’, on YouTube. One of the most well known, and most viewed, was created by The RSA, based on Dan Pink’s speech, ‘The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us’. It has a not-insubstantial 14.5 million views to date.

 

“When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new and we augment our communal intelligence … visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’—the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”   – R.E. Horn, Stanford University

 

One study’s results showed that adding just one image to text improves comprehension by nearly 90%. That’s why infographics are increasingly finding their footing in visual content marketing. Infographics convey statistics, facts and processes, making content easier to digest by reducing the amount of text – or highlighting the key points from dense text – and balancing the black-on-white with visuals. Check out this example below:


11 Fascinating Facts About the Human Heart

human heart facts

We’re beginning to add illustrations to our content marketing, because they are shown over and over again to improve retention and comprehension. BUT. There’s another reason too.

Visuals delight.

Surprise and delight your audience

One company, despite interacting with billions of us every day, still manages to surprise and delight us with their use of illustrations: Google and their Google Doodle.

Who else is a little bit intrigued, a little bit surprised, when they see a Google Doodle on an otherwise-random day? Who hovers over the doodle, curious to see what special day it is, which discovery we’re celebrating, or whose birthday it would have been. It’s different. It’s interesting. It’s fun.
Untitled-2-02 copy

Taking an illustrative approach

Illustrations capture our interest and our imaginations. They help us to see beyond the words to truly grasp information. Illustrations complement content by aiding the reader in understanding and retaining what is being said, making the entire content package more effective, more interesting and, most important of all, more lasting than text alone.

Try illustrating your content and see if it helps you to illustrate the point.

Ready to rethink your content marketing? Here are some things you may want to consider:

1. Ask yourself the question: Would the reader understand more clearly what I’m trying to explain if I added an illustration?
2. Consider the content, the media and the illustration type. Some illustration types are better suited for some media and content than others. For example, a highly detailed medical illustration can perfectly capture a complex concept, or an animation could illustrate a lengthy process far better than a flow chart.
3. Think about what your words can’t do – however well they paint a picture. That’s what your visuals are for, and what their conception should be based on.

 

Medicalwriters.com know how to take complex medical and scientific information and turn it into understandable illustrations. Our medical illustrations range from hand-drawn drawings, computer graphics, mode-of-action videos and animations. If you need help putting pencil to paper, you can find us here: Medicalwriters.com

World Cancer Day 2016 #WorldCancerDay #WeCanICan

February 4th is World Cancer Day and this year it’s all about action. #WeCanICan

World Cancer Day is about exploring ‘how everyone – as a collective or as individuals – can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer’ (WorldCancerDay.org). It’s a day to make people aware that their actions, like smoking, can play a part in them potentially getting cancer, but also, that people can take action if they or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer – Ask For Support.

Goal of World Cancer Day

To get as many people as possible around the globe to talk about cancer on 4 February

 

This year they’re encouraging everyone to join the ‘Talking Hands’ social media campaign and show their messages, their support and what actions they’re taking, on their hands. Find out more on how to join the campaign with their toolkit.

To find out what we can do and what you can do, for yourself and others, check out worldcancerday.org.

Patient education – more than meets the eye

Patient education is evolving. It’s no longer enough to simply “tell” patients what to do — healthcare reforms in many countries aim at empowering patients and engaging them in their care. Plus, patients can’t be expected to remember everything they’ve been told in the clinic or hospital, considering the volume of information, medical jargon and differences in clinicians’ communication abilities, not to mention the stress of being in the healthcare environment.

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International Cartilage Repair Society chooses Medicalwriters.com as the medical writing provider for patient education project

We are pleased to announce that our agency has been chosen as the medical writing provider for the new patient eduction project of the International Cartilage Repair Society. The mission of the International Cartilage Repair Society is to advance science & education in cartilage repair worldwide.

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