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Health Communication

Health communication, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute, is:

The study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health.

Health communication includes verbal and written strategies to influence and empower individuals, populations, and communities to make healthier choices. Health communication often integrates components of multiple theories and models to promote positive changes in attitudes and behaviors. Health communication is related to social marketing, which involves the development of activities and interventions designed to positively change behaviors.

Effective health communication and social marketing strategies include the following components:

  • Use of research-based strategies to shape materials and products and to select the channels that deliver them to the intended audience.
  • Understanding of conventional wisdom, concepts, language, and priorities for different cultures and settings.
  • Consideration of health literacy, internet access, media exposure, and cultural competency of target populations.
  • Development of materials such as brochures, billboards, newspaper articles, television broadcasts, radio commercials, public service announcements, newsletters, pamphlets, videos, digital tools, case studies, group discussions, health fairs, field trips, and workbooks among others media outlets.

Using a variety of communication channels can allow health messages to shape mass media or interpersonal, small group, or community level campaigns. Health communication strategies aim to change people's knowledge, attitudes, and/or behaviors; for example:

  • Increase risk perception
  • Reinforce positive behaviors
  • Influence social norms
  • Increase availability of support and needed services
  • Empower individuals to change or improve their health conditions

Examples of media strategies to convey health messages include the following components:

  • Radio
  • Television
  • Newspaper
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Internet
  • Social media tools (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube)

Examples of Health Communication Interventions

Considerations for Implementation

When designing health communication or social marketing strategies, it is important to consider the overall communication goals of the intervention. It is also necessary to understand the target population so that the content created is relevant to the target population. It is important to tailor messages to the communication channel being used. Further, using multiple communication and media strategies will ensure a broader reach. It is also important to ensure that the target population has access to the communication channels being used.

Resources to Learn More

Applying Theory in the Evaluation of Communication Campaigns
Document
This document explores common health promotion and disease prevention theories in the context of health communication campaigns.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Date: 2011

CDC Social Media Tools, Guidelines, & Best Practices
Document
This website provides a toolkit, guidelines, policies, and other critical information to guide the development of social media tools for health communication.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Date: 2/2015

Health Communication Online Course
Website
The website provides in-depth information about health communication strategies and how to mobilize the community.
Organization(s): Unite for Sight

Implementing a Social Marketing Effort
Website
This toolkit assists in developing a social marketing effort to promote adoption and use of innovations related to health promotion.
Organization(s): Community Tool Box

Making Health Communication Programs Work
Document
Describes a practical approach for planning and implementing health communication efforts and offers guidelines that can be tailored to various settings and circumstances.
Organization(s): National Cancer Institute
Date: 5/2008

Managing Messages: A Toolkit for Your Organization’s Communication
Document
The toolkit is designed to help rural health care facilities and organizations tell their story through the media and other means.
Organization(s): University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health
Date: 2015