What is health communication?

Traditional interventions are no longer seen as enough to effectively prevent and control major health threats such as antimicrobial resistance, measles and HIV. Research shows that properly designed behaviour-based health communication activities can have a significant positive impact on health-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. ECDC supports the EU and EEA countries’ efforts to integrate behaviour change and risk and crisis communication strategies in their communicable disease prevention programmes and public health campaigns.

Building from the long-term development of this field of knowledge in other parts of the world, the following principles are widely accepted as attributes of effective health communication practice and message development: 

Accuracy: the content is valid and without errors of fact, interpretation, or judgment.
Availability: the content (whether targeted message or other information) is delivered or placed where the audience can access it. 
Balance: where appropriate, the content presents the benefits and risks of potential actions or recognizes different and valid perspectives on the issue.
Consistency: the content remains internally consistent over time and also is consistent with information from other sources.
Cultural competence: the design, implementation, and evaluation process that accounts for special issues for select population groups and also educational levels and disability.
Evidence base: relevant scientific evidence that has undergone comprehensive review and rigorous analysis to formulate practice guidelines, performance measure, review criteria, and technology assessments.
Reach: the content gets to or is available to the largest possible number of people in the target population.
Reliability: the source of the content is credible, and the content itself is kept up to date.
Repetition: the delivery of/access to the content is continued or repeated over time, both to reinforce the impact with a given audience and to reach new generations.
Timeliness: the content is provided or available when the audience is most receptive to, or in need of, the specific information.
Understandability: the reading or language level and format (including multimedia) are appropriate for the specific audience.

 

Further to a broad view of health communication and its object, there are at least six main areas of modelling knowledge, developing practice and ongoing international debate, that have been contributing to its more effective implementation. These are: health literacy, health education, social marketing, risk communication, crisis communication, and health advocacy. For further international references on the text above see: Healthy people 2010; Chapter 11 Health Communication.​