Arcia's head shot

Speeding the Transmission of Health Information to the Underserved

Faculty Profile: Adriana Arcia PhD, RN, Assistant Professor

Adriana Arcia’s area of research focuses on the intersection of health disparities, maternal and neonatal health, and informed decision making. As a postdoctoral research fellow, she explored how infographics can be used to help individuals with varying levels of health literacy better comprehend personal health data.

She received the prestigious Harriet Werley Award at the 2013 American Medical Informatics Association’s (AMIA) Annual Research Symposium for a paper describing the method used in developing a set of infographics, on which she was the lead author. This work is part of a larger initiative, the Washington Heights-Inwood Informatics Infrastructure for Comparative Effectiveness Research (WICER), a multidisciplinary project that aims to understand and improve the health of a largely Hispanic community in New York City. Her doctoral studies focused on women’s childbirth preferences and practice variation in obstetrics. She received a BA in Theatre from Davidson College, a BSN in Nursing from Pace University, and a PhD in Nursing from the University of Miami.

Q: Your research found that women who view themselves as “active” participants in the delivery of their first child are more likely to prefer planned home birth and the care of a midwife. Any thoughts as to how or why women have chosen not to be more “active” participants in childbirth?

Unfortunately, our culture tends to send a strong message to women that their bodies are dangerous and unreliable, resulting in an inability to perform the normal bodily function of giving birth without a great amount of help from medical experts. Women’s embrace of a highly medicalized approach to childbirth care is a logical reaction to that message. The cultural tide is turning, though, as we come to understand that mothers and babies are more likely to enjoy good birth outcomes when medical intervention is kept to a minimum and the focus is on care practices that support the normal physiologic process of childbirth.

Q: What are some of the research frontiers where you expect some exciting findings in midwifery and childbirth to emerge?

It’s an exciting time because researchers are investigating the factors that could play a role in improving maternal and neonatal outcomes. In the next few years, I think you’ll see advances that describe the impact of increasingly patient-centered care, how recent changes to obstetric practice recommendations affect birth outcomes, and how various care delivery and payment models affect service usage.

Q: There has been a great deal of interest lately on the potential of social media to improve health and health care. How do you see the role of social media evolving to help individuals in underserved communities?

Social media can help speed the transmission of valuable health information to the underserved in ways not possible using the traditional health information infrastructure. The trick is to frame health information in accessible, compelling ways that lend themselves to sharing. We may not be able to get as many page views as the latest viral cat video, but studying successful Internet memes may give us insights that we can apply to improve health messaging.

Q: As part of the WICER team, you helped create visual images that could help predominantly Hispanic residents of Northern Manhattan better understand their own health status and behaviors. What were some of the interesting issues you encountered as you tested various visual images in the community?

One of the things we learned is just how challenging it can be to find the right level of abstraction for an image. Graphical elements that are too abstract can be confusing and unappealing, but too much specificity can lead to overly literal interpretations. Some of our assumptions about what would or wouldn’t work simply did not hold up, and thus our experiences confirmed that there is just no replacement for working collaboratively with the target community.

Q: At first glance, infographics and childbirth don’t seem to have much in common. How are these topics related in your work?

Our current strategies for communicating health messages pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth aren’t always meeting women’s needs, particularly if they have limited English proficiency or low health literacy. In my research, I plan to explore whether visually-rich materials, such as infographics or videos, can help us better meet women’s learning needs by narrowing the existing gap in comprehension.