Health Communication: "The most important aspect in a service is always information"

Interview with Dr. Hartmut Engels

Medicine is no occult science anymore – books and magazines, documentaries and the internet help everyone to understand the human body and its diseases. Quality is paramount in this respect, since misinformation can mislead patients. The Health Media Award offers guidance also for lay people: it honors useful and effective information services.


Photo: Dr. Helmut Engels, Dr. Eckart von Kirschhausen

Dr. Helmut Engels (left) presents Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen, one of the winners in 2008, with the Health:Angel; © Health Media Award/ Klaus Voit

A grand jury of healthcare experts awards this prize annually since 2008. talked to the jury’s president Dr. Helmut Engels about topics, processes and the future of the Award. The Award ceremony will take place in the Kameha Grand Hotel Bonn at June 27th. Applications may be submitted until May 20th.

Dr. Engels, what was the original reason for the Health Media Award? Where did the idea originate?

Helmut Engels: The idea originates with Bonn entrepreneur Markus Berger. From 2007 to 2011, he organized the trend forum gesundheit (English: trend forum health, tg). Within the scope of the presented projects, a platform to rate them was first set up in 2008. This led to the first Health Media Award. In doing so, the great choices were meant to be separated from not so stellar information options that are available in German-speaking health communication. Eventually, the trendforum gesundheit (TG) event format was completely replaced by awarding the Health:Angel.

The special categories of the Award for 2014 are Dementia and Communication, Dental Medicine and Dental Health as well as Care. Why did you choose these topics in particular?

Engels: The topic selection always depends on what kind of important topics are trending in public and which ones are currently strongly debated in the press for instance. Dementia for example is a disease that concerns everyone, because we are all getting older and everyone could essentially be afflicted with it. Lately studies have been published that conclude that the number of dementia patients is going to strongly increase over the next 15-20 years. This is why we reviewed the scope of information available on the market and set up this special category to promote this area.

In the dental field on the other hand, we are noticing a kind of generation change. At the moment, many young physicians are taking over existing practices and work increasingly on their ways of communication, especially via web pages and social media channels. We want to take this development into account.

The Award is also catching on internationally at this point. We received a video message from EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg for the Award ceremony, in which he emphasizes the importance of this Award and good communication in health.
Photo: Laptop und stethoskope

Good services in health communication have a chance of winning at the Health Media Award; ©

Why is good health communication so important?

Engels: These days, the internet turns patients into “hobby physicians“ so to speak. Those, who get a diagnosis from their doctor or who have been told about a suspected disease search the internet for more information. In doing so, patients sometimes acquire a pseudo knowledge that causes fear and concerns or has them assume misguided positions in some instances. This is why we check to see which choices offer profound information: where is information on medical associations accessible for instance or where do companies in this field provide good information? If patients want to get educated via the Internet, it needs to take place in both an appropriate and professional manner.

The Award procedures have a very transparent style. Why is that?

Engels: We want to be transparent in showing what exactly is being presented and what the assessments look like to prevent any accusations of collusion. The Award jury meeting takes place publically in the conference rooms of the international Law Offices of Osborne Clarke in Cologne; anyone can be a spectator, but cannot participate in the jury discussions. It could distort the outcome when there are contestant stakeholders in the audience. At this point, on behalf of the entire festival team I would also like to thank Stefan Rizor, Managing Partner of the law firm, for his many years of legal support.

As the President of the Grand Jury, I also advocate for outstanding achievements in the area of health communication to be bestowed with either a category award or an “honorary Oscar“. This way, we also enable applicants, who do not have the necessary means to apply, non-profit organizations for instance, to enter into competition.
Photo: Logo of the Health Media Award

© Health Media Award

What do you consider a good idea in health communication?

Engels: That always depends on the field. The patient should not be thrown in at the deep end when it comes to a complex topic like cancer. You need to slowly introduce him/her to the root of the matter, so he/she is able to understand the subject even as a layperson. You can choose different ways to do this. The most important aspect in a service is always information. Even though the presentation is also attracting attention, it is not as important.

How could the Award be further developed?

Engels: Simply put, year after year it depends on the social needs. In case of the special category dementia, the need actually caught our eye. Dementia is a disease that develops gradually. People, who are well informed about it, are better prepared and able to better deal with it. This in turn means that we are also able to take action sooner to prevent and mitigate the risk of dementia.

For the 2015 Award, we are planning internationalization. Last year the Health Media Award International Ltd. Company was founded to promote international presentation and marketing. Germany, Austria and Switzerland were strongly represented with contributions so far, but we also want to reach other countries at this point. This includes that we also expand our own channels and standardize the Award procedures across borders. Finally, we check how the Award could be implemented in other countries, for instance through a franchise concept.
Foto: Timo Roth; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Timo Roth and translated by Elena O'Meara.