Advertising as a field and industry often has a contentious relationship with both health communication and public health due to legitimate concerns about how advertising for certain products, such as alcohol and tobacco, could contribute to less-healthy decisions and behaviors. While acknowledging such concerns, advertisers and their approach to solving communication problems could also provide valuable lessons to those working in health communication. Indeed, advertising agencies are designed to develop creative and effective messages that change consumer behavior—and health communication practitioners and scholars aim to change population-level behavior as well. The perspective and approach of the account planner in the advertising agency—a role whose chief responsibility is to bring the consumer perspective into every step of the advertising development process and inspire effective and creative campaigns—would be particularly valuable to those working in health communication. It was account planning work that shifted traditional milk advertising from promoting it as a healthy drink to the iconic “got milk?” campaign, which positioned milk as a complement that makes other food better—an approach that drove positive sales after years of declining milk consumption. Yet many who work in health communication and public health often know little of how advertising agencies work or their internal processes that might be productively adopted. This lack of understanding can also lead to misperceptions of advertisers’ work and intentions. As an example, one might assume dense medical language in prescription drug advertising is intended to add unnecessary complexity to the advertisements and obscure side effects; instead, advertising professionals who work on prescription drug advertising have often been trained on clear communication—but cannot fully utilize that training because of regulations that require medically accurate terminology that might not be comprehensible to most viewers. Improved understanding of how advertisers can act as agents of change, and increased dialogue between the fields of advertising and health communication, could contribute to improved health communication research, practice, and policy.
Michael Mackert and Marie Guadagno
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process. The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions. In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.
Jessica Fitts Willoughby
People who communicate health and risk information are often trying to determine new and innovative ways to reach members of their target audience. Because of the nearly ubiquitous use of mobile phones among individuals in the United States and the continued proliferation of such devices around the world, communicators have turned to mobile as a possible channel for disseminating health information. Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, uses mobile and portable devices to communicate information about health and to monitor health issues. Cell phones are one primary form of mHealth, with the use of cell phone features such as text messaging and mobile applications (apps) often used as a way to provide health information and motivation to target audience members. Text messaging, or short message service (SMS), is a convenient form for conveying health information, as most cell phone owners regularly send and receive text messages. mHealth offers benefits over other channels for communicating health information, such as convenience, portability, interactivity, and the ability to personalize or tailor messages. Additionally, mHealth has been found to be effective at changing attitudes and behaviors related to health. Research has found mobile to be a tool useful for promoting healthy attitudes and behaviors related to a number of topic areas, from increased sexual health to decreased alcohol consumption. Literature from health communication and research into mHealth can provide guidance for health communicators looking to develop an effective mHealth intervention or program, but possible concerns related to the use of mobile need to be considered, such as concerns about data security and participant privacy.
S. Anne Moorhead
Social media used for communication purposes within healthcare contexts is increasing and becoming more acceptable. The users of social media for healthcare communication include members of the general public, patients, health professionals, and health organizations. The uses of social media for healthcare communication are various and include providing health information on a range of conditions; providing answers to medical questions; facilitating dialogue between patients and between patients and health professionals; collecting data on patient experiences and opinions used for health intervention, health promotion, and health education; reducing stigma; and providing online consultations. With emerging advances over time, including new platforms and purposes, these uses will change and expand, increasing usability and thus providing more opportunities to use social media in connection to healthcare in the future. However, both patients and health professionals may require training to fully maximize the uses of using social media in healthcare. Social media has numerous benefits for healthcare communication, including increased interactions with others; more available, shared, and tailored information; increased accessibility and widening access; and increased peer/social/emotional support. While there may be further benefits of using social media in healthcare, there are many limitations of social media for healthcare communication as well. The main reported limitations include a lack of reliability; quality concerns; and lack of confidentiality and privacy. From the available evidence, it is clear that maintaining patient privacy as well as the security and integrity of information shared are concerns when using social media. As patients and members of the general public use social media widely, some may expect it in healthcare, thus it important for health professionals and organizations to manage expectations of social media in healthcare communication. This results in challenges ranging from encouraging staff to use social media to dealing with user problems and complaints. It is recommended that organizations embrace social media but have a specific purpose for each activity and platform while continually monitoring traffic. Regardless of the nature or size of the healthcare organization, it is time to adopt appropriate guidelines for the use of the social media in healthcare communication to address the challenges and the growing expectations of using social media, especially within healthcare contexts. The key message is that social media has the potential to supplement and complement but not replace other methods to improve communication and interaction among members of the general public, patients, health professionals, and healthcare organizations.