The Critical Importance Of Health Communication

Health communication is a subject that far too few citizens are aware of—especially those that live their lives outside of the medical field.

Information is power—and when it comes to medicine, information can mean the difference between life and death. Having the knowledge and the foresight to understand scientific and biological phenomena is one thing. It is another entirely to be able to convey that information to others accurately.

Finding a means to cross the bridge between the greater public and the medical community is one of the most difficult tasks facing clinicians today. Recent developments in the culture and politics of America specifically makes it difficult to share news and reports not only in a manner that’s understood but in one that is believed.

The Internet age has made it all too easy to discredit valid clinical studies and corroborate invalid research at the same time. However, without proper education, the public may not have the information and tools at their disposal to combat easily preventable diseases and illnesses. Without this knowledge, many members of the public could suffer.

We’ll be going over the critical importance of communications in the health sciences, means to convey that information, and ways to ensure that you can find information that’s validated by professionals.

Health Communications In A Nutshell

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The first step in understanding health communication is seeing what it is—and is not.

As we’ve mentioned, there is a great divide between what the public knows and what the medical professionals know. And while the medical professionals have spent years of time and energy devoted to a better understanding of the world and health at large, the public has scant information on the subject.

This is precisely why information can be lost in language that’s too complex or too dense to the public. It’s not that the public doesn’t understand the information, but rather, it’s that the public doesn’t have time to study the same materials.

This is a crucial and healthy part of the relationship between medicine and the general populous. As medical professionals, understanding the information at hand so that patients do not have to is an honor and a burden all the same. But still, giving that information over to the public before they become patients can further aid in better health for all.

Harvard University stresses that public health professionals need to do the following to improve communication in health:

  • Identity public context
  • Identity public channels
  • Identity reasons to motivate the public
  • Framing information in a universal context
  • Cut through the noise of mass media

These crucial tenants are the building blocks for communication in health. Through these, we can uncover means to ensure that everyone has the knowledge they may need to survive.

Awareness & Advocacy  

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Communicating messages to the public will always start with two things—awareness and advocacy.

Both of these terms are well known within the lexicon of public health professionals, and both form the foundation of effective communication in health.

The reasoning behind this is simple. Much like in marketing, there is no way to convince a person to accept a product or engage in information unless you convince them that they need it. By establishing a need, you can begin to draw in attention and express the information that’s truly important.

You will often see action committees and other health and medical communications groups run advertisements on television calling out to those who may have been diagnosed with a certain disease or illness. This is awareness. You must first be heard and ensure that the public is aware of your voice before you can convey your message.

This is where advocacy comes into play. The general public will not be engaged in information about health unless it is clear that there are passionate people behind it. While we do not recommend fear mongering, advocacy for new information and stressing the importance behind it will help medical professionals draw in the audiences necessary to pass along the information.

Reach & Understandability

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Once advocacy and awareness have taken place, it is time to ensure that the audience you’ve attracted is large enough and ready to receive the information.

Increasing reach is difficult. As previously stated, the blessing and the curse of the Internet age is that the bar for global contact has been lowered dramatically. There’s far more noise to cut through now than ever before. We’ll be getting more into mass media technologies a little bit later on.

Still, medical professionals need to ensure that their message is primed for reach, and the best way to do this is through understandability. The European Centre For Disease

Prevention and Control stresses that the readability and format of the information at hand need to be tailor-made for the intended audience.

For example, if you’re trying to reach an audience of young adults for vital health information concerning them, then the information cannot be densely packed with health-specific terminology and dense sentences. The information needs to be authoritative, but clear, concise and gets the point across.

The more understandable a message is, health-related or otherwise, the more viral you can expect it to become. Because the bar for understanding the information is so low, there’s no need to explain to each member of the public information about the data for them to understand it.

This creates a situation in which reach grows organically since the general public is sharing it without a specific request from medical professionals. This plays into our final means of sharing critical information with the public:

Utilizing Mass Media Technologies

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To combat the Internet Age, medical professionals need to harness the full power of online reach and appeal to influences and other online voices to make sure their message is shared organically.

While hospitals and other institutions can work to build a platform online through with to share messages with the public, it is more effective for the audience to do this work for the institution in question.

For example—the public was taken by storm a few years ago by the Ice Bucket Challenge—a creation of the ALS Association which was intended to raise donations to curtail the effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis; also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 was able to raise a $115 million in just eight weeks; increasing awareness of ALS as well as raising significant capital to combat the disease as well.  

The ALS Association utilized mass media technologies brilliantly by capitalizing on social media influencers and celebrities to help spread awareness to those who needed to hear the message. The fact that ALS was better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease for many decades is evidence enough of the impact that celebrities have on public perception of health information.

By utilizing mass media technologies available to everyone, medical professionals can inform the public of new diseases, new vaccines, and possible cures. Likewise, health-based organizations can raise funds to combat illnesses and cancers by creating information that’s designed to be organically spread online.

To use these technologies, medical professionals must encompass every aspect of effective health communication in just the right manner. Information must first be made aware to the public and advocated for by either medical professionals, public figures, or both. Then information must increase reach by remaining packaged in a format that’s easily digestible.

Then, with an intimate understanding of the way mass media technologies intersect today, medical professionals can pass along critical health information to the public in a manner that’s self-replicating. If done correctly, the public will do the work or informing itself without any further push by the health professionals that released the information.

Final Thoughts

While health-based institutions and professionals need to work hard to convey pertinent health information to the public, it is vital that they continue to do so.

Communication in health is the passage of valuable information to those who need it the most. And for every person that effective communication helps, there are many who may be suffering or even dying needlessly because the information that could help them could never reach it’s intended target.

This urgent and vital need is ongoing, regardless of if you’re a member of the public or a medical professional yourself, you can play your part in ensuring that vital information is shared.

Members of the public can use their platforms, however large or small, to share peer-reviewed information that could be vital to their followers. Medical professionals can do the same, as well as inform their patients and co-workers of the need to do so.

Those within communication in health specifically will be more than appreciative of your efforts. Hopefully, with greater communication in health available now than ever before, the information gap between the public and the medical community can continue to shrink.

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