Coalition for Health Communication

Future Directions of Health Communication


Health communication as an area for study and practice has momentum for continued growth as well as increasing visibility across disciplines and among public health officials, practitioners, and funding agencies. Academic programs across the country have added undergraduate specializations, minors, and majors in health communication, while graduate programs have defined tracks to train future health communication scholars, carved out research areas, and received funding for specific grants and to develop Centers for Communication. Public health also has defined health communication as a critical area, focusing heavily on social marketing approaches to influence individuals to adopt healthy behaviors. Health communication scholars are participating in the creation of the Healthy People 2020 goals, of which an entire section is devoted to the role of health communication. The attention will continue to grow due to the need for translational research that moves research from the bench and into practice, the impacts of technology on health, the changing needs of United States and Global populations, and the prominence placed on multi-disciplinary teams for conducting funded research. The future of health communication is promising and as an area of study, it is poised for multiple pursuits over the next few decades.

Technology and Health

The impact of health and technology on health communication can not be overstated. At every turn in the medical arena, technology is changing the delivery of health care services. Monitoring of chronic illness through cell phone text messaging, using social network websites to disseminate health information, integrating pdas into nursing home care, establishing telehealth networks in rural areas, and converting patient health files into electronic medical records provide some examples of areas ripe for further study as they impact communication processes and health outcomes.

Translation and Dissemination

Translation and dissemination are distinct, but related processes. Translation refers to the need for actual interpretation of scientific evidence into usable language and activities for the practitioner and the public, while dissemination is focused on the best channels and strategies for communicating translated messages to specific target audiences. As many funding agencies are focused on the importance of research creating usable information to improve public health, communication researchers are uniquely positioned to assist in both the translation and dissemination processes with their expertise in audience analysis, interpersonal dynamics, campaign design, persuasion theory, research methods, and/or health literacy issues.

Health literacy, in particular, is another important area for research as low health literacy is correlated with increased morbidity, mortality, and health care costs. Health communication researchers can play a large role in helping to increase health literacy by creating health messages for individuals that are both accessible and culturally sensitive.


Changing Health Needs in the U.S. and Globally

The demographics of the U.S. population are changing rapidly as baby boomers are living longer and represent an increasing proportion of the population.

Opps with Changing Populations - baby boomers, migrants

Transglobal Nature/International Communication

Intergenerational focus

Transdisciplinary Research

Health communication experts have moved from doing work as individual researchers to interdisciplinary research to multidisciplinary research to the current concept of transdisciplinary research. While each of these levels of research promote the idea of working with others who have different training and background, the transdisciplinary notion connotes a sense of synergy where advocates, social scientists, and hard scientists as well as other stakeholders work in coalition with each other to work on basic and applied research for the public good.  For example, the Breast Cancer and Environment Research Centers (BCERC) integrate biologists, epidemiologists, communication scientists, and advocates to investigate, translate, and disseminate information about environmental risk factors and their role in breast development and breast cancer.  Similar to the BCERC, future research opportunities lay in partnerships between health communication experts, other scientists, and stakeholders.