Anna Zawislanski

Photo of Anna Zawislanski

Senior Vice President
Washington DC
Posts: 5

Anna is a former Senior Vice President at Ogilvy Washington.

Caution: Annual Check Ups May Be Bad for Your Health

May 08

Throughout my career, I’ve been helping my public health clients encourage their consumer audiences to get tested, get screened, get vaccinated, and to “talk to their health care provider about” a host of procedures and options. The underlying theme has generally been the more (evidence-based) care the better. A few years back, as part of my wine-soaked bookclub with my gal pals, I read Shannon Brownlee‘s Overtreated, which opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking—that more care is not necessarily better; in fact, it could make things worse.  And then the Cochrane Collaboration presented evidence that the good old annual check-up doesn’t make a difference when it comes to reducing morbidity or mortality — not to mention the high cost of the unnecessary care. Wait, WHAT?? How could that be? The estimated 44.4 million adults who receive an annual preventive health examination are not benefiting from it?  It turns out that US Preventative Service Task Force does not recommend annual checkups for asymptomatic adults and the Society of General Internal Medicine started making that same recommendation in 2013 as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign.

Experts believe that this bad news about annual check-ups is related to this phenomenon: the types of diseases/conditions commonly discovered in routine exams are either fairly benign or so far advanced that outcomes can’t be altered with treatment. Wow.

This news (at least news to me) has rocked my world. I can’t quite get my head around this finding that goes against common belief and practice (44.4 million!). If people stop getting annual check-ups, will they be less likely to build trusted relationships with their providers? Will there be less opportunities for those critical conversations about preventative behavior changes, e.g., better nutrition, increased physical activity, etc. And, as a communications professional, I can’t help but think how do we begin to message this to consumers?  I believe the answer is very cautiously. Depending on the messenger, the message might be misconstrued as limiting access to healthcare/socialized medicine/end of America as we know it…  I believe it can only come from that individual, trusted health care provider him or herself, who takes the time to explain that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Back from NCHCMM – Feeling Inspired and Connected

Aug 22

This was my first NCHCMM.  Wasn’t sure what to expect but was very excited for my colleagues who were presenting on outstanding projects – see Emily Zeigenfuse’s earlier post on the Ogilvy sessions at the conference.  I was also looking forward to seeing old friends and colleagues–and meeting new ones.

What I didn’t expect is to come back refreshed and inspired by all the innovative projects happening around the country and by the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of my fellow public health communicators.  As someone who works at the national level, I especially appreciated meeting and talking with folks who work at the state and local levels.  So many great stories about their experiences and challenges with creating healthier communities.  And I truly enjoyed the sessions that brought it back to the basics – why we love this work, why it matters, and how can we can do it better.  They helped me to see the forest again.

Some of my personal highlights:

  • Watching Jennifer Pahlka’s TED Talk on making government run better – permission-less and open like the Internet – and brainstorming ways to encourage citizens to get involved in solving public health issues.  Many of our ideas got posted on TalkBacktoTED.
  • Learning how a small budget smoking cessation campaign in Vermont underwent a research-based rebranding effort, which resulted in the 802Quits campaign.  (For non-Vermonters, 802 is the Vermont area code. The state is so small, they have one area code.)  The work is beautiful, powerful, and spot on in every way.  But, what’s more important is the outcome: large increases in visits to the website, orders of nicotine-replacement therapy products, and calls to the helpline.
  • Exploring the importance of storytelling.  With the theme of the conference being “What’s Your Story?,” many sessions focused on the importance of telling good stories about our work and about the impact of our efforts.  Opening keynote presenter and author, Paul Smith, defined story very simply: Fact + Emotion = Story.  And he emphasized that we tend to not remember facts, but we can’t forget a good story.  How true!  Throughout the conference, we heard/watched many compelling stories — and one session focused on how to tell stories.    This is near and dear to my Ogilvy heart, where we have focused on the importance of story telling for many years (long before it was ‘en mode’) and our new-ish CEO, Chris Graves, is an international storytelling evangelist and trainer.

For next year, I hope to see the focus shift on how to find personal stories and make them into compelling testimonials.  I can say from experience that getting real people stories is not easy, especially for professionals who impact public health at the population level.  802Quits works at the individual level through its quit-line counselors and even their team had a difficult time finding stories and getting folks to agree to be video taped.  Case in point: it took them 18 months to find a story about a pregnant woman who quit smoking using the quit line.

A big Ogilvy thanks to the CDC and NPHIC organizers for a great conference and to all the presenters who put lots of thought and preparation into their sessions.  It was a great experience and I’m already thinking about 2015.

Warning: Your doctor’s BMI may be dangerous to your health

Mar 28

Social marketers realize the power of encouraging behavior change through the doctor-patient relationship.  With health information coming at us from various sources and channels, the doctor, or more broadly speaking, the health professional, continues to be the #1 trusted source for health advice.  And this is a good thing; health professionals are educated, they know how to interpret and apply research findings to individual patients, and they understand the whole patient.

But, a recent study of 500 primary care physicians presents an interesting wrinkle in this paradigm.  The survey found that doctors who are overweight/obese are less likely to engage in discussions about weight loss with overweight patients than doctors with a normal BMI, and they feel less confident in providing diet and exercise counseling. Even more interestingly, doctors are more likely to have weight loss discussions with patients if they perceive them to be more overweight than they themselves are.  Absolutely fascinating, though not counterintuitive.  And it’s likely that this kind of bias extends to other lifestyle, screening, and disease self-management behaviors.

This is something that we have to take into account when engaging health professionals in patient behavior change campaigns.  Doctors are people too, with their own perceptions, biases, and realities; how to shed those biases is not something taught in medical school…

Should the next edition of Theories at a Glance include the Fun Theory?

Jan 27

I just came across this video on my Facebook news feed and watched it over and over again.  

This is an incredible example of making a desirable behavior the more appealing option.  It’s like putting melted cheddar cheese on broccoli to encourage vegetable consumption among children – but bigger!   This effort was developed based on the Fun Theory, which is defined on as “the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”   Brilliant. Truly brilliant.  We all could use a little more fun.

I challenge you to think about how we can infuse more fun into the behaviors we are promoting.  So, it’s not just promoting benefits and reducing the barriers, but packaging the behaviors with appealing – and fun – elements.  It takes some seriously innovative thinking… check out for additional inspiration.

The Value of Personal Experience with the First “P”

May 26

I had my first screening mammogram today.   I was nervous about it, as most women are.  But, it turned out to be a piece of cake.  Really!  Afterwards, I found myself reflecting on the experience from a professional angle, and specifically on how interesting it was to have had a mammogram after working for years on breast cancer screening promotion programs.  Aaah! So this is what it’s like!

We put high value on audience research to understand the perceptions, the barriers, and the motivators as they relate to the desired attitude or behavior.   And rightly so.  But, how valuable is it to have the planning team members be part of the target audience or have some experience with the intended behavior/product?   At minimum, it’s an extra data point in your audience research.  But I am convinced that it’s much more valuable than that.  It provides that difficult to describe –and therefore hard to glean from research – familiarity or relationship one develops as a result of interacting with the product.  

Of course, as with all other biases, we have to make sure that this personal experience doesn’t skew research findings or replace the need for research.  But we can use it to develop research questions, insights, and thoughtful creative.

I’ll close by saying that it’s not always possible to engage in the behavior you are trying to affect, e.g., if you never smoked, you can’t quit.  But, as social marketers, we can and should take steps to try to get close to the “product” if we can.  For some time, my National Kidney Disease Education Program client has been encouraging me to visit a dialysis center to get a feel for what’s it like to be on dialysis.   After this experience, I am ready to schedule the visit.