Rhetoric, commonly understood as the art, practice, and analysis of persuasion, has longstanding connections to medicine and health. Rhetorical scholars, or rhetoricians, have increasingly applied rhetorical theories, concepts, and methods to the texts, contexts, discourses, practices, materials, and digital and visual artifacts related to health and medicine. As an emerging interdisciplinary subfield, the rhetoric of health and medicine seeks to uncover how symbolic patterns shape thought and action in health and medical texts, discourses, settings, and materials. In practice, rhetoricians who study health and medicine draw from the standard modes of rhetorical analysis, such as rhetorical criticism and rhetorical historiography, as well as from social science methods—including participant observation, interviewing, content analysis, and visual mapping—in order to deepen understanding of how language functions across health and medical objects, issues, and discussions. The objects of analysis for rhetorical studies of health and medicine span medical research, education, and clinical practice from laboratory notes to provider–patient interaction; health policymaking and practice from draft policies through standards of care; public health texts and artifacts; consumer health practices and patient advocacy on- and offline; public discourses about disease, death, bodies, illness, wellness, and health; online and digital health information; popular entertainments and medical dramas; and alternative and complementary medicine. Despite its methodological breadth, rhetorical approaches to science and medicine consistently involve the systematic examination and production of symbolic exchanges occurring across interactional, institutional, and public contexts to determine how individuals and groups create knowledge, meanings, identities, understandings, and courses of action about health and illness.
Jennifer A. Malkowski, J. Blake Scott, and Lisa Keränen
Joel Iverson, Tomeka Robinson, and Steven J. Venette
Risk can be defined using a mathematical formula—probability multiplied by consequences. An essential element of risk communication is a focus on messages within organizations. However, many health-related risks such as Ebola extend beyond an individual organization and risk is better understood as a social construction cogenerated within and between systems. Therefore, the process is influenced by systemic and supra-systemic values and predilections. Risk from a structurational perspective allows an understanding of the public as well as organizational responses to risk. Structuration theory provides a useful lens to move beyond seeing organizations as something that flows within an organization to understanding how organizations are enacted through communication. Structuration theory articulates the connections between systems and structures through the action of agents, whose practices produce and reproduce the rules and resources of social life. Within the structuration tradition, organizational communication scholars have shifted to an understanding of the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO). Specifically, one of the theories of CCO is the Four Flows Model. The four flows highlight the ways people enact organizations and provide a means to analyze the various ways communication constitutes organizations. The four flows are membership negotiation, activity coordination, reflexive self-structuring, and institutional positioning. Membership negotiation enacts the inner members and outsiders at a basic level including socialization, identity, and assimilation. Activity coordination produces collective action around a specific goal. Reflexive self-structuring is the decentralized enactment of structures for the organization through the communication of policies. Institutional positioning covers the macro-level actions where people in the organization act as an entity within the environment. When considering the public reaction to Ebola, a simple way to evaluate risk perception is the intersection of dread and control. The U.S. public considered Ebola a serious risk. From a structuration perspective, the viral nature of twitter, media coverage, and public discussion generated resources for fear to be exacerbated. Structuration theory allows us to position the risk beliefs as rules and resources that are reproduced through discourse. The organizational implications fall primarily into the two flows of institutional positioning and reflexive self-structuring. For institutional positioning, U.S. healthcare organizations faced general public dread and perceived lack of control. Within the United States multiple policies and procedures were changed, thus fulfilling the second flow of organizational self-structuring. The Ebola risk had a significant impact on the communicative constitution of health-care organizations in the United States and beyond. Overall, risk is communicatively constituted, as are organizations. The interplay between risk and health-care organizations is evident through the analysis of American cases of Ebola. Structuration theory provides a means for exploring and understanding the communicative nature of risk and situates that risk within the larger systems of organizations.
Alice M. Kiger, Donna M. Fagan, and Edwin R. van Teijlingen
Faith communities play an important role in health promotion in some parts of the world, notably North America and sub-Saharan Africa. They appear to be less prominent in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that it is a high-income country with a well-developed national public health system. Faith communities can be instigators of health promotion (faith-based health promotion), or they can provide settings where other agencies can conduct health promotion (faith-placed health promotion). Key opportunities and barriers for faith-based and faith-placed health promotion can be found by drawing on examples from the United States and Africa.
Suellen Hopfer and Genesis Gutierrez
Fundamental structural features of risk maps influence how health risk and burden information is understood. The mapping of health data by medical geographers in the 1800s has evolved into the field of geovisualization and the use of online, geographic information system (GIS) interactive maps. Thematic (statistical) map types provide basic principles for mapping geographic health data. It is important to match the nature of statistical data with map type to minimize the potential for communicating misleading messages. Strategic use of structural map features can facilitate or hinder accurate comprehension of health risk messages in maps. A key challenge remains in designing maps to communicate a clear message given the complexity of modern health risk burdens. Various structural map features such as symbols, color, grouping of statistical data, scale, and legend must be considered for their impact on accurate comprehension and message clarity. Cognitive theory in relationship to map comprehension plays a role, as do insights from research on visualizing uncertainty, future trends in developing predictive mapping tools for public health planning, the use of geo-social and “big data,” as well as data ownership.
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.
Paul W. Speer and Leah Marion Roberts
Agents of change serve as catalysts for stimulating social change, particularly at community and societal levels of analysis. We often think about the characteristics of individuals who act as change agents, such as their capacity to motivate others or their training skills. However, organizations and disciplinary fields can also serve as agents of change. There is an emerging awareness in the fields of public health and community organizing as to how these respective fields can collaborate to leverage their collective insights and skills to become effective agents of change for community health outcomes. Importantly, while public health is concerned with the social determinants that shape health inequities in all communities, community organizing is focused on community issues that residents confront as constraints or problems in their daily lives. There is an inchoate understanding within the fields of public health and community organizing that the social determinants addressed in public health are often the same issues identified and addressed by community organizing groups. Both disciplines work as agents of change through their traditional efforts; however, there is promise in the evolving collaborations between these two fields. Recognition that both fields are addressing the same community phenomena is an important step, but whether collaborations and shared practices become distributed and institutionalized is an open question. Public health possesses research and analytic sophistication capable of identifying different social determinants and the pathways through which such determinants contribute to poor community health outcomes. In contrast, community organizing supplies an understanding of social change that requires the exercise of power through the participation and active engagement by those most directly affected by local issues or social determinants. One tension in this emergent collaborative practice stems from the fact that, at times, these different disciplinary skill sets are at odds. Whereas public health has a deep value of data analysis and expertise, community organizing prioritizes the participation and self-determination of those impacted by community problems. Fundamentally, the tension here is between the value placed on expertise versus the value placed on public participation. Neither value is inherently superior to the other; understanding how these two values can complement one another to address social determinants that shape community health outcomes is critical for realizing the promise of these organizational agents of change.
R. Craig Lefebvre and P. Christopher Palmedo
Many ideas about best practices for risk communication share common ground with social marketing theory and practice: for example, segmentation, formative research, and a focus on behavioral outcomes. Social marketing first developed as a methodology to increase the public health impact of programs and to increase the acceptability and practice of behaviors that improve personal and social well-being. The core concepts of this approach are to be people-centered and to aim for large-scale behavior change. An international consensus definition of social marketing describes it as an integration of theory, evidence, best practices, and insights from people to be served. This integrated approach is used to design programs that are tailored to priority groups’ needs, problems, and aspirations and are responsive to a competitive environment. Key outcomes for social marketing efforts are whether they are effective, efficient, equitable, and sustainable. The 4P social marketing mix of Products, Prices, Places, and Promotion offers both strategic and practical value for risk-communication theory and practice. The addition of products, for example, to communication efforts in risk reduction has been shown to result in significantly greater increases in protective behaviors. The Cover CUNY case demonstrates how full attention to, and consideration of, all elements of the marketing mix can be used to design a comprehensive risk-communication campaign focused on encouraging college student enrollment for health insurance. The second case, from the drug safety communication arena, shows how a systems-level, marketplace approach is used to develop strategies that focus on key areas where marketplace failures undermine optimal information-dissemination efforts and how they might be addressed.
Kami J. Silk, Sarah Sheff, Maria Lapinski, and Alice Hoffman
The environment influences health and risk outcomes, and communication campaigns often strive to reduce risk and promote positive health outcomes by raising awareness, increasing knowledge, influencing attitudes, and impacting intentions and behavior. Communication campaigns should be based on good formative research and theory, and they should be implemented with fidelity and a clear evaluation plan. Communication campaigns that address environmental influences are typically focused on promoting human, animal, or environmental outcomes despite the fact that all three are interconnected and would benefit from being considered in a larger ecological framework. The One Health approach reconceptualizes environmental influences by focusing not just on the environmental but also connections with human and animal health. One Health can be applied to communication campaigns to support efforts that acknowledge and promote the complexity of these relationships. Campaigns about environmental influences on health and risk range from a longstanding campaign built on individual activities to reduce environmental and personal risk to a sun smart campaign to reduce sun exposure risk to a lead-free campaign and an asthma-control campaign concerned about air quality. Other environmental campaigns focus on tobacco prevention, obesity prevention by addressing environmental influences as part of their strategy, climate control, and ocean species preservation—and that is only a sampling of popular campaign topics. These communication campaigns face similar challenges like lack of formative research and evaluation plans as well as atheoretical approaches to influence outcomes.
Bradford William Hesse
The presence of large-scale data systems can be felt, consciously or not, in almost every facet of modern life, whether through the simple act of selecting travel options online, purchasing products from online retailers, or navigating through the streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood using global positioning system (GPS) mapping. These systems operate through the momentum of big data, a term introduced by data scientists to describe a data-rich environment enabled by a superconvergence of advanced computer-processing speeds and storage capacities; advanced connectivity between people and devices through the Internet; the ubiquity of smart, mobile devices and wireless sensors; and the creation of accelerated data flows among systems in the global economy. Some researchers have suggested that big data represents the so-called fourth paradigm in science, wherein the first paradigm was marked by the evolution of the experimental method, the second was brought about by the maturation of theory, the third was marked by an evolution of statistical methodology as enabled by computational technology, while the fourth extended the benefits of the first three, but also enabled the application of novel machine-learning approaches to an evidence stream that exists in high volume, high velocity, high variety, and differing levels of veracity. In public health and medicine, the emergence of big data capabilities has followed naturally from the expansion of data streams from genome sequencing, protein identification, environmental surveillance, and passive patient sensing. In 2001, the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics published a road map for connecting these evidence streams to each other through a national health information infrastructure. Since then, the road map has spurred national investments in electronic health records (EHRs) and motivated the integration of public surveillance data into analytic platforms for health situational awareness. More recently, the boom in consumer-oriented mobile applications and wireless medical sensing devices has opened up the possibility for mining new data flows directly from altruistic patients. In the broader public communication sphere, the ability to mine the digital traces of conversation on social media presents an opportunity to apply advanced machine learning algorithms as a way of tracking the diffusion of risk communication messages. In addition to utilizing big data for improving the scientific knowledge base in risk communication, there will be a need for health communication scientists and practitioners to work as part of interdisciplinary teams to improve the interfaces to these data for professionals and the public. Too much data, presented in disorganized ways, can lead to what some have referred to as “data smog.” Much work will be needed for understanding how to turn big data into knowledge, and just as important, how to turn data-informed knowledge into action.