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Rural Health Information Hub

Health Communication

The Community Guide defines health communication as:

“The study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual and community 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 program audience.
  • Development of materials such as social media posts, brochures, billboards, newspaper articles, television broadcasts, radio commercials, public service announcements, newsletters, videos, digital tools, case studies, group discussions, health fairs, field trips, and workbooks, among other 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 and brochures
  • Websites
  • Social media (for example Facebook, Instagram, 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 intended audience so that the content created is relevant. 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 intended audience has access to the communication channels being used.

Resources to Learn More

CDC Gateway to Health Communication
Provides resources on inclusive health communication. Includes training, tools, and templates, featured campaigns, and guiding principles to support health equity.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Health Communication Evidence-Based Resources
Lists evidence-based resources focused on health communication methods and interventions supporting the development of programs and policies to improve health and prevent disease.
Organization(s): Healthy People 2030

The Community Tool Box: Chapter 13 - Implementing Social Marketing
Guides the development of social marketing activities to support the adoption and use of innovations in health promotion to reach large numbers of people when advocating for healthy behaviors and improved health outcomes.
Organization(s): Community Tool Box

Managing Messages: A Toolkit for Your Organization's Communication
Helps rural healthcare facilities develop and distribute announcements/messages through the media to inform, promote, and create positive public opinion about their organizations. Topics cover developing a communication plan, working with the media, and crisis communication.
Organization(s): University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health

Plain Language for Public Health
Offers techniques on using plain language principles to create accessible and effective health messages, advance health literacy, and promote overall community health.
Organization(s): Public Health Communications Collaborative
Date: 2023