Health Communication Theory: Essential Tools and Strategies

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A health communications professional meets with doctors.

Everyone needs health care, but not everyone understands what health care they need. The health care industry relies on skilled communication professionals to relay health information to the public. Health communication professionals work to improve health literacy rates and bridge gaps between doctors and patients. They disseminate important health information to the public with the goal of increasing awareness of health issues, using community outreach, event planning and social marketing strategies. Professionals who understand health communication theory are prepared to work in the health care industry as promoters of healthy behaviors and advocates for health literacy among diverse populations. Advanced education, such as an online Master of Arts in Health Communication, can help students build careers in this growing field.

What Is Health Communication Theory?

Health communication theory encompasses the development and implementation of marketing and communication strategies designed to educate communities and individuals and encourage the adoption of better health practices. Professionals who understand health communication theory can train health care providers in the fundamentals of health literacy so they can communicate more effectively with patients. A career in health communication also involves producing medical pamphlets and communication training materials that medical staff and health educators can use to better communicate with patients who have a low health literacy rate.

Health literacy requires that a patient be able to fill out medical forms, understand prescriptions, read medical information and follow doctor’s orders. To support health literacy, health communication professionals must be able to provide patients with medical information that they can understand.

Achieving health literacy will require the health care industry to further implement health communication theories to provide health care information that is relevant to diverse communities. Health care communication specialists should be able to develop materials that address the particular needs of these communities, as well as provide translations of health care material to those whose first language is not English.

Health care communicators also must train doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to effectively communicate with minority communities in a way that makes them feel inclined to seek medical care. The health care industry will seek to hire professionals who can review published medical materials to ensure that the information is effectively targeting the health care needs of underrepresented communities.

Essential Tools and Strategies for Health Communication

Effective health communication specialists exhibit a variety of skills that enable them to address the health needs of communities and individuals. They are also responsible for executing health campaigns that require them to understand budgets, analyze medical literature, develop marketing strategies and target the needs of particular communities. These public health care campaigns address community health concerns in collaboration with the media, health care companies and the government.

To establish a successful campaign, health care specialists must develop a strategic plan to convey their message to the community. The first step in the process is to identify the health concerns that persist within the community. The next step requires health communicators to collaborate with medical professionals and organizations to gather the research necessary to develop a health campaign that addresses the health issues. The final step is to choose the most effective medium to convey the message of the campaign to the target audience. Typical media options include internet ads, social media posts, television commercials, newspaper articles and billboards.

Health communication specialists increasingly use social media to convey health care messages to vast audiences. For example, the organization LADBible produced the UOKM8 campaign, which addressed the mental health issues of men in the United Kingdom. The organization teamed up with other charities and was able to reach more than 38 million young men through commercials that aired on television and the internet. The campaign also had more than 832,000 engagements on social media, according to LADBible. Health communicators must develop the necessary skill set to implement health communication theories to drive a successful social media health campaign.

Pursuing a Career in Health Communication

To pursue a successful career in health communication, an individual typically will earn a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree in health communication, health education, communications or a health care field. Health communication professionals exhibit skills in communication, active listening and analysis; an overall understanding of health literacy; and health numeracy.

Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Health Communication (MAHC) degree can help students develop the skills they need for a successful career in the field. Key courses in the MAHC program include the following:

  • Health Communication Theory — This course emphasizes the fundamentals and principles that are needed to develop new medical guidelines and interventions. The goal is to prepare students to promote health education in communities to encourage better health and life satisfaction.
  • Information Gathering and Analysis — This course develops students’ understanding and ability to implement a variety of research methods, while also teaching them analysis techniques to enable them to provide important information that can impact decisions.

The MAHC program also offers courses such as Health Communication Campaigns, Business Presentation Strategies, Communicating Crises in Health and Cultural Conceptions of Health and Wellness. Coursework in Rider’s MAHC program provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to implement health communication theory in real-world situations.

Learn More About Health Communication

Professionals interested in pursuing a career in health communication would do well to consider the benefits of further education. A master’s degree in health communication can provide students with the skills they need to disseminate medical information and improve health care outcomes. Discover how Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Health Communication prepares students for careers as effective communicators of vital health care information.

Recommended Readings

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Health Communication Specialist Salary and Job Responsibilities

What Is Health Information Technology and How Does It Impact Health Communication?


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LADbible Group, UOKM8? Wins ‘Best PR and Brand Storytelling’ at the Masters of Marketing Awards 2017

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