Health Communication Basics

Health communication applies the insights of different communication theories to public health issues. Successful health communication empowers individuals to get routine cancer screenings, busts myths about HPV vaccination, and teaches health care providers how to support culturally affirming care. While no single approach can convince people to take actions that can improve their health, education and advocacy both rely on effective health communication at their core.

Health communication campaigns can raise awareness about specific health issues, and influence audiences to implement healthier behaviors in daily life. The following strategies can help your organization successfully adapt and use the GW Cancer Center’s health awareness campaigns based on your needs and the needs of your audience.

  1. Define and understand the issue. Start by understanding who is affected by your issue, what disparities exist, and what solutions exist. You might start by reviewing data on cases in your state, what groups are affected, and possible solutions, like promoting screening, or improving access to healthy food for risk reduction.

  2. Learn about your intended audience. Defining your audience and subgroups allows you to make your messages more effective. Some of the GW Cancer Center’s health awareness campaigns have specific messaging for priority populations.
  3. Identify the goal of your campaign. While raising awareness about a particular cancer type or other health observance is important, it’s also a broad goal that is difficult to measure. Before launching a health awareness campaign, define the goal of your campaign and action(s) you would like your audience to take. For colorectal cancer awareness, for example, your goal may be to encourage your audience to talk to their health care provider about screening. 
  4. Strategically craft your messages. All of the GW Cancer Center’s health observance toolkits are evidence-informed and messages can be used without modification. However, if your organization has the time to strategically adapt the messages for your specific audience and goal(s), you may find them to be more effective. 
  5. Build partnerships. Partnerships with other organizations can amplify your messages and help you reach audiences you may not have otherwise connected with. 
  6. Get creative with outreach. Think beyond traditional social media when planning how to distribute your messages. While Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are important ways to reach an audience, other options like blogs, podcasts, or even TikTok may enhance your reach.
  7. Test your materials. If possible, it’s helpful to test your key messages and materials with your target audience, even if you are adapting existing materials or content. This helps ensure that the messages are effective.