Tech’s new health communication center teams with LDH

Louisiana Tech students are involved in an ongoing project that will help the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) create different much-needed items for the state’s COVID-19 health outreach activities.

CHMC logoThe opportunity arose when Tech’s new Center for Health and Medical Communication was recently asked to join the LDH’s COVID-19 Communication-Health Promotion Advisory Council. The Center was then tasked with creating educational information, not only on COVID-19, but also on other infectious diseases, such as the flu.

A collaborative effort between the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering and Science, Tech’s Center for Health and Medical Communication was created in the spring of 2020 and falls under the University’s Research and Innovation Enterprise as a Research Center of Excellence.

The Center’s purpose is to conduct original research in health and medical communication, both to identify health and medical communication needs and problems in different communities, and to engage in different research-related activities to address such needs and problems.

Its director is Tech professor and Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair of Technical Communication Dr. Kirk St.Amant.

“The Center’s mission is to produce applied research—often interdisciplinary—that directly addresses the healthcare needs of different local, regional, national, and even international communities,” St.Amant said. “The goal is to create informational and instructional materials that different audiences can use to meet their health and medical needs.  By increasing our understanding of medical conditions in Louisiana and throughout the region, nation, and world, we can provide resources that patients and their families can use effectively.

“The Center’s projects are meant to address health and medical situations in Louisiana and beyond,” he said.   

At present, the Center is partnering not only with the LDH’s Advisory Council, but also with the Health Hut nonprofit community healthcare organization that serves both Ruston and Lincoln Parish. Two student interns, Kristen Bastin and Miles Colemen, are currently working on projects for these organizations. Bastin, from Zachary, is enrolled in Tech’s MA program in English and its Technical Writing certificate program. Colemen, an English major with a technical writing concentration, is from Baton Rouge.

Projects for both the LDH and the Health Hut have been integrated into three fall classes at Tech – undergraduate and graduate versions of the class Usability & User Experience (ENGL 471 & ENGL 571), as well as an honors class in Usability & User Experience (HNRS 489). Assignments in each of these classes focus on creating materials for the two organizations. Projects will involve both developing instructional and informational materials on how to engage in telehealth activities during COVID-19, and identifying the telehealth limitations and needs of different communities in Louisiana. 

Bastin and Coleman have already begun work on those projects.

These collaborations are part of the Center’s Telehealth 2.0 Project, which focuses on identifying the best methods and technologies for sharing health and medical information with different populations across the state. The specific focus is on individuals who cannot readily access medical professionals or healthcare services locally, and individuals who serve as a caregiver for a family member or other person but who cannot meet with those individuals in person due to COVID-19 concerns or other healthcare restrictions.

“The objective is twofold,” St.Amant said. “The first part involves providing non-healthcare professionals—patients and their family members—with information on using different technologies to access healthcare providers and health and medical information. The second part focuses on providing patients and their families with information on medical topics and health processes in language designed for non-healthcare professionals.”

“Also, we want to provide individuals with information on how to maintain contact with loved ones and family members in healthcare facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living residences.”

Students in both the English classes and the Honors class have begun preliminary research for the Telehealth 2.0 project.

“These projects provide students with the opportunity to apply what they learn in class to real-world situations – situations affecting the families, friends, and local communities,” St.Amant said. “It also helps students develop skills for engaging with and contributing to their communities in meaningful ways – ways that represent the kind of unparalleled educational experiences central to Tech’s mission as a university.”