by Katie Matlack Women are the more active gender on online social networks, and are the healthcare decisionmakers in most families, too. Taken together, these two facts help explain why women–moms in particular–often are responsible for using the web to bring powerful stories from the grassroots level to the world, effecting real change in healthcare.
To learn more about the topic I spoke with Deb Levine, a pioneer when it comes to using the web as a tool for social change related to health information access and technology. She founded the award-winning online sexual health Q&A site Go Ask Alice, and recently won an award from the White House for her team’s design of an app used to help prevent dating violence at colleges and universities. Levine, a mother of two, observed that being a mom “informs all of [her] work and writing” and is “an overarching influence” on her.
“Women who are mothers are writing about sensitive issues,” she continued. “[They] are the people who, in bringing health issues to the forefront, are pushing healthcare reform and access while also bringing attention to important issues like maternal mortality.”
Below, I’ll discuss six moms doing important work to improve healthcare and the tools available in health for the wellness of themselves and their families–and ultimately, of all of us.
Deb Levine – Trustworthy health information access for young adults
Levine built what’s known by many as the first major health Q&A site, Go Ask Alice; it was also named by Stanford University as the most accurate reproductive health info site on the Internet. The site’s success–it receives over 1.5 million hits per month–illustrates what Levine’s work showed us: that “topics considered to be shameful and embarrassing like sex are best discussed behind a screen–computer screen then, mobile phone and PDA today.” Today Levine directs a nonprofit, Internet Sexuality Information Services, and is organizing next month’s conference, Sex::Tech, on new media, youth, and sexual health.
Elita Kalma – Spreading information about benefits of breastfeeding to women of color
With the birth of her first child, Kalma wisely started her helpful, delightful and assertive blog Blactating after discovering that few voices online advocating for breastfeeding were from women of color. She tells her own experience about breastfeeding, thus acting as a critical role model among women of color debating nursing. The Surgeon General reports that breastfeeding rates are about half as great among black at birth as compared to white children, with negative health repercussions since breastfeeding can counter child obesity as well as a range of other health issues, so here Kalma’s advocacy can act to spur online conversation, dispel misinformation, and raise awareness to help benefit readers and readers who are women of color in particular.
Jodi Jacobson – Advocacy for public health and reproductive and sexual health & justice
Visit RH Reality Check (RH stands for reproductive health) to get an idea of Jacobson’s impact. She’s the Editor-in-Chief there and writes regularly about news events that stand to impact reproductive health rights. For example, Jacobson was partially responsible for publicizing and drumming up outcry against the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s policy change in February that, were it not reversed, would have denied preventative health services to thousands of women. In addition to providing information directly to the masses on this site, Jacobsen frequently weighs in as an expert cited in mainstream publications including the Lancet and The Economist. She also founded and led the Center for Health and Gender Equity, an internationally-influential organization that produces cutting-edge research on international policies and programs.
Robin Strongin – Elimination of “gatekeepers” to drive disruptive change in the health sphere
The name of the blog Strongin created sums it up: Disruptive Women in Health Care. The blog’s been around since 2008 and serves as a platform for “provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in health.” Strongin realized that the health sphere needed input and direction from some outsiders in order to advance the pace of change. Today bloggers post on her site about underreported issues such as the surprising shortage of primary care physicians or the need for better incentives for mobile health in the U.S. Thus, the blog serves to amplify the voices of its contributors through its coverage in mainstream media outlets such as CBS.
Penelope Trunk – Creation of dialogue around miscarriage and working women’s health issues
Trunk writes a popular blog about “the intersection between work and life” and regularly posts Tweets shared on her site as well. When she inadvertently created an uproar by tweeting about her own miscarriage, however, her influence on society’s acceptance and understanding of health issues was made clear, too. Major outlets such as ABC, CNN and AOL covered the reactions to the tweet, serving to shed light on the misplaced shame that sometimes complicates understanding and support of health issues.
Mary Brune – Connecting moms to information about toxic environmental risks
Brune’s work highlights important information that impacts infant health as well as environmental health conditions that touch us all. Her site, MOMS–which stands for “Making Our Milk Safe”–was founded to bring mothers together to collaborate for a healthier and safer environment for their children. It publicizes risks and protection measures on toxics, and has been featured in a PBS special on toxic toys.
(Katie Matlack writes about health IT topics ranging from medical billing software reviews to social media for doctors and health advocates, to electronic health record adoption, as a blogger for Software Advice, an Austin-based startup.)