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Improving Health Communication to Provide a Positive Impact on Public Health

Professionals in the realm of public health — such as care providers, officials and policymakers — recognize that effective health communication is essential for improving public health outcomes. Public health initiatives like Healthy People 2030 and the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy have emphasized the importance of health communication in the achievement of population health goals.

Professional health communication requires knowledge and skill development related to advanced strategy, message design, communication theory, healthcare policy, healthcare systems and related telehealth and e-health technologies. Earning an online Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Health Communication from Northern Kentucky University (NKU) can help aspiring health professionals develop expertise in these areas. With this expertise, professionals can maximize the positive impact health communication can have on public health outcomes.

What Is Health Communication?

According to the Society for Health Communication (SHC), health communication is "a multidisciplinary field of study and practice that applies communication evidence, strategy, theory, and creativity to promote behaviors, policies, and practices that advance the health and well-being of people and populations."

Health communication can deliver messages related to public health campaigns and initiatives; it can also involve individual, interpersonal communication between patients, providers, public health officials, etc. Information technology and social marketing play essential roles in modern health communication at both small, individual and large, wide-reaching levels.

Why Is Health Communication Important?

Effective health communication makes accurate health information comprehendible, accessible and usable. Health communication professionals excel at translating medical jargon into easily understood information that drives informed decision-making.

This conveyance facilitates positive patient-provider communication and relationships. Ensuring a patient understands their healthcare experience, history and the effects of healthy choices can help that patient make better choices.

The effectiveness of broader public health campaigns also relies on well-designed health communication messaging. Health communication professionals must translate health initiatives and information into content that will engage and inform target audiences. This process involves using communication theory and strategies to deliver messages via accessible, audience-preferred channels (news, social media, etc.).

Plus, health communication and health information technology tools can facilitate more collaboration in public health and healthcare systems. This engagement supports consistency, continuity and quality of care throughout patients' healthcare experiences. It also allows for more consistency and clarity in the dissemination of information and messaging across healthcare environments.

Effective health communication is also vital for addressing numerous, interconnected public health issues such as health equity, inclusive communication and health literacy:

1. Health Equity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Long-standing systemic social and health inequities … have put some population groups at increased risk of getting sick, having overall poor health, and having worse outcomes when they do get sick."

Achieving health equity is a fundamental component and overarching goal of public health initiatives. Developing health equity means genuinely understanding and overcoming disparities that prevent people from getting adequate care — including quantifiable health inequities and the systemic root causes of those inequities.

Health communication experts can distill these nuanced concepts into clear, actionable information and messaging. Public health officials, policymakers, healthcare administrators and providers rely on this information to create informed, targeted health equity initiatives.

2. Inclusive Communication

The CDC emphasizes the importance of inclusive communication for achieving health equity. Inclusive communication provides understandable, usable, engaging, empowering and appropriate information given an audience's cultural norms, primary language and demographic factors.

Messaging content should be accessible, adaptable and representative of the audience. Community engagement in health communication processes is essential for this. Inclusive communication puts people first and uses preferred terms for a population group rather than defining a group by the conditions or challenges they experience. Health communication professionals can help create an environment that actively promotes health equity through intentional inclusivity.

3. Health Literacy

The two core principles of the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy are: "All people have the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions" and "Health services should be delivered in ways that are easy to understand and that improve health, longevity, and quality of life."

Similarly, "personal health literacy" and "organizational health literacy" are woven into foundational principles, overarching goals and specific objectives of Healthy People 2030. Many of these principles, goals and objectives connect directly to improving the communication and accessibility of health information and knowledge.

This enhancement involves direct patient-provider communication and public health messaging, as well as a patient's access to and understanding of their online medical information and healthcare options. Fostering health literacy at the individual, organizational and technological levels is a primary responsibility of modern health professionals.

Combatting Misinformation

As highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation regarding public health issues can have dire consequences. Overcoming misinformation is an ongoing challenge, continuously complicated by social media and alternative media as well as political and ideological divides.

Health communication professionals combat misinformation by creating clear and accessible multi-channel messaging that provides consistent, current and accurate information. Fostering health literacy and equity through community engagement and inclusive communication also empowers people with the knowledge needed to filter out misinformation.

Through these efforts, health communication experts can be instrumental in achieving the goals of modern public health initiatives. Achieving these objectives can advance the health and well-being of both present and future populations.

Learn more about Northern Kentucky University's online Bachelor of Arts in Health Communication program.

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