Written by Frank Tucker
In the world of healthcare and medicine, communication is of prime importance. It is not only a way of passing on information between colleagues but is also a way of keeping patients in the loop and providing them with all the information they are entitled to regarding their clinical condition. Health communication now forms an important aspect of medical practice to a point where it is now included various textbooks as a separate chapter. In this article, we shall take a brief look at what health communication is and what the essential aspects of this topic are.
Defining Health Communication
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute have defined health communication as “The study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health.”
In simple terms, health communication involves various aspects of sharing information and implementing health management strategies in the community. It encompasses public health, global health and the development of the community. Deeply embedded within its core is the ultimate goal of enhancing public health through research and clinical practice.
One of the prime targets of communication is behavioral modification. In essence, this involves altering the public’s perception of different conditions and influencing their attitudes towards different health practices. For example, health communication can be related to stopping smoking or cutting down alcohol intake.
Methods of Communication
There are a variety of different ways through which health communication can be achieved. Below are some of the commonly adopted strategies that help get the message across.
1. TV advertising
It is not uncommon to find television adverts directed towards various medical conditions. For example, cancer research is often advertised with the aim of informing individuals about the dangers of cancer and how steps can be taken to promote research and ultimately cure cancer. Anti-smoking adverts are also common that inform the general public about the harms of smoking such as myocardial infarction and chronic lung disease.
2. Online education
Numerous websites are often popping up online that provide free information to patients not only regarding treatment of these conditions but also of different preventative measures that can be taken to avoid the development of any illness. In the United Kingdom, NHS choices and patient.co.uk are commonly visited sites and in the United States, Web MD and Medscape are extremely popular. These sites are designed in a way that individuals who do not have a strong educational background can still read the material and understand the implications it would have on their health. The key factor is that the language is simple to understand and health communication is achieved in an effective manner.
3. Charity events
These days, a number of different charities have taken up the initiative to raise money to various events such as fun runs. While the goal of these events is to raise money towards research, it also aims to inform the public about the dangers of different illnesses. Some examples include Alzheimer charities and cancer charities that regularly organized fundraising events that are not only fun to do but also extremely informative.
4. Personalized communication
While the above methods can achieve health communication on a large scale, the basic doctor-patient relationship should not be underestimated. A large amount of information can be clearly exchanged between a doctor and the patient and can be an effective way of health communication. Involvement of other healthcare professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists along with family members can make personalized communication even more effective.
5. Social Media
Social media can pose quite a privacy issue in health communication. However, it is a great tool that when used with privacy in mind has the ability to reach large and broad audiences. Certainly a powerful tool in outreach and marketing as mass information dissemination, but can also be used as patient or public health engagement tool. The best part is that feedback and interaction can be near real time. It also allows us to target and reach diverse audiences particularly when integrated with traditional patient and public health communication channels
Goals of Health Communication
There are different goals that health communication intends to achieve. The primary goal is to enhance the public’s knowledge and awareness regarding specific public health issues. By doing so, individuals attitudes towards these health issues and their behavior as a result will hopefully be altered for the better.
Behavioral alterations will hopefully result in improved personal healthcare practices which in the long-term can reduce mortality and morbidity from various clinical conditions. By informing the public better, awareness regarding specific conditions that have insufficient support from health authorities could be recognized and steps be taken to improve these. The hope is also that effective healthcare communication can debunk various health myths and common misconceptions around different illnesses.
Achieving effective healthcare communication must be done in an ethical manner. Information should not be forced upon the public and messages that are delivered must not alarm them in any way. Educating the public regarding different illnesses and how they can protect their health is no doubt essential but must be done in a controlled manner with individuals seeking advice from their health care professional if required. A change in behavior can only be seen if the communication takes place in an effective yet gentle manner. Follow up assessment are important in studying whether or not the communication has had an impact.
Health communication has become an important part of healthcare. Delivered in a safe, effective and informative manner, it can be a very useful tool in improving long-term health outcomes in the