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Article

Presumed Media Influence in Health and Risk Messaging  

Shirley S. Ho and Andrew Z. H. Yee

Health communication research has often focused on how features of persuasive health messages can directly influence the intended target audience of the messages. However, scholars examining presumed media influence on human behavior have underscored the need to think about how various audience’s health behavior can be unexpectedly influenced by their exposure to media messages. Two central theoretical frameworks have been used to guide research examining the unintended effects: the third-person effect and the influence of presumed media influence (IPMI). The theoretical explanations for presumed media influence is built on attribution bias, self-enhancement, perceived exposure, perceived relevance, and self-categorization. Even though both the third-person effect and the IPMI share some theoretical foundations, and are historically related, the IPMI has been argued to be better suited to explaining a broader variety of behavioral consequences. One major way that presumed media influence can affect an individual’s health behavior is through the shifting of various types of normative beliefs: descriptive, subjective, injunctive, and personal norms. These beliefs can manifest through normative pressure that is theoretically linked to behavioral intentions. In other words, media have the capability to create the perception that certain behaviors are prevalent, inculcating a normative belief that can lead to the uptake of, or restrain, health behaviors. Scholars examining presumed media influence have since provided empirical support in a number of specific media and behavioral health contexts. Existing findings provide a useful base for health communication practitioners to think about how presumed media influence can be integrated into health campaigns and message design. Despite the proliferation of research in this area, there remains a need for future research to examine these effects in a new media environment, to extend research into a greater number of health outcomes, to incorporate actual behavioral measures, and to ascertain the hypothesized causal chain of events in the model.

Article

Social Media for Healthcare Communication  

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.

Article

Mobile Health and Exposures to Health and Risk Messages  

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.

Article

Social Marketing Applied to Health and Risk Messaging  

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.

Article

Entertainment-Education and Health and Risk Messaging  

Suruchi Sood, Amy Henderson Riley, and Kristine Cecile Alarcon

Entertainment-education (EE) began as a communication approach that uses both entertainment and education to engender individual and social change, but is emerging as a distinct theoretical, practice, and evidence-based communication subdiscipline. EE has roots in oral and performing arts traditions spanning thousands of years, such as morality tales, religious storytelling, and the spoken word. Modern-day EE, meanwhile, is produced in both fiction and nonfiction designs that include many formats: local street theater, music, puppetry, games, radio, television, and social media. A classic successful example of EE is the children’s television program Sesame Street, which is broadcast in over 120 countries. EE, however, is a strategy that has been successfully planned, implemented, and evaluated in countries around the world for children and adults alike. EE scholarship has traditionally focused on asking, “Does it work?” but more recent theorizing and research is moving toward understanding how EE works, drawing from multidisciplinary theories. From a research standpoint, such scholarship has increasingly showcased a wide range of methodologies. The result of these transformations is that EE is becoming an area of study, or subdiscipline, backed by an entire body of theory, practice, and evidence. The theoretical underpinnings, practice components, and evidence base from EE may be surveyed via the peer-reviewed literature published over the past 10 years. However, extensive work in social change from EE projects around the world has not all made it into the published literature. EE historically began as a communication approach, one tool in the communication toolbox. Over time, the nascent approach became its own full-fledged strategy focused on individual change. Backed by emerging technologies, innovative examples from around the globe, and new variations in implementation, it becomes clear that the field of EE is emerging into a discrete theoretical, practice, and evidence-based subdiscipline within communication that increasingly recognizes the inherent role of individuals, families, communities, organizations, and policies on improving the conditions needed for lasting social change.

Article

Agenda Setting in Health and Risk Messaging  

Karyn Ogata Jones

Since McCombs and Shaw first introduced the theory in 1972, agenda setting has emerged as one of the most influential perspectives in the study of the effects of mass media. Broadly defined, “agenda setting” refers to the ability of mass media sources to identify the most salient topics, thereby “setting the agendas” for audiences. In telling us what to think about, then, mass media sources are perceived to play an influential role in determining priorities related to policies, values, and knowledge on a given topic or issue. Scholars have studied this phenomenon according to both object (issue) salience and attribute salience and along aggregate and individual audience responses. The audience characteristics of need for orientation, uncertainty, relevance, and involvement are advanced as moderating and predicting agenda-setting effects. When agenda-setting theory is applied to the study of messaging related to health and risk communication, scholars have reviewed and identified common themes and topics that generally include media’s role in educating and informing the public about specific health conditions as well as public health priorities and administrative policies. Agenda setting is often examined in terms of measuring mass media effects on audiences. Looking at interpersonal communication, such as that coming from medical providers, opinion leaders, or peer networks, in studies will allow research to examine the combined effects of interpersonal and mass communication. Testing possible interactions among differing sources of information along with assessment of issue and attribute salience among audiences according to an agenda-setting framework serves to document audience trends and lived experiences with regard to mass media, health, and risk communication.

Article

Using Pictures in Health and Risk Messages  

Sarah C. Vos and Elisia Cohen

Using pictures (also called images) in health and risk messages increases attention to messages and facilitates increased retention of message content, especially in low-literate populations. In risk communication, researchers have found that pictorial warnings stimulate communication and that images without text can communicate risk information as effectively (or, in some cases, more effectively) than text. However, little empirically based guidance exists for designing images for health and risk messages because most studies use an absence-presence model and compare visual communication to textual communication, rather than compare different types of visual communication. In addition, visual communication theories focus on describing the “how” aspect of communication instead of offering proscriptive guidance for message design. Further complicating the design of visual messages is that the number of possibilities for a visual message is, like text-based messages, almost infinite. Choices include colors, shapes, arrangement, and the inclusion of text, logos, icons, and so on. As a result, best practices on visual messages often draw on design recommendations. Before the widespread advent of Internet use and the adoption of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, using images—especially color images—could be cost prohibitive. However, these online platforms facilitate the distribution of visual content, and many public health organizations use these platforms to distribute visual messages. The need for guidance and research on using pictures effectively is growing. Although there has been increasing focus on images in health messages, many questions still exist about how visual messages should be composed and what their effect is. The existing evidence suggests that visual information can improve persuasive and, on social networking sites, diffusion outcomes. However, visual information may be prone to misinterpretation. Researchers should also evaluate ethical considerations when choosing pictures. Message testing is highly recommended.

Article

Media Literacy as a Consideration in Health and Risk Message Design  

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.

Article

Medical Tourism and Communication  

Alicia Mason

Medical tourism (MT), sometimes referred to as health tourism or medical travel, involves both the treatment of illness and the facilitation of wellness, with travel. Medical tourism is a multifaceted and multiphase process involving many agents and actors that requires careful planning and execution. The coordinated process involves the biomedical, transportation, tourism, and leisure industries. From the communication perspective, the process can be viewed as a 5-stage model consisting of the: (a) orientation, (b) preparation, (c) experiential and treatment, (d) convalescence, and (e) reflection phases. Medical tourism is uniquely situated in a nexus of academic literature related to communication, business and management, travel and tourism, policy and law, healthcare and health administration. Communication permeates and perpetuates the medical tourism process and does so at the levels of interpersonal interactions (provider-patient communication), small group (healthcare teams), organizational (between healthcare providers), and mass and computer-mediated communication (marketing, advertising, and patient social support). This process may, in some cases, involve high rates of international and intercultural variation. Further study of the MT process can help to gain a better understanding of how healthcare consumers evaluate information about medical procedures and possible risks, as well as the specific message features and effects associated with various communication channels and information delivery systems. Continuing scholarly efforts also should focus on the relationship between medical tourism and communication.

Article

Advertisers as Agents for Change in Health and Risk Messaging  

Michael Mackert and Marie Guadagno

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.

Article

Perceptions of the Childfree  

Elizabeth A. Hintz and Rachel Tucker

Being voluntarily childless (i.e., “childfree”) is a growing trend in the United States and around the world. Although most childfree people know early in life that they do not wish to become parents, the decision to forgo having children is an ongoing process that requires childfree people to construct a life that deviates from the normative family life cycle. Increasing rates of voluntary childlessness is a trend spurred by a variety of shifting social, economic, and environmental factors. Yet despite the increasing normalcy of voluntary childlessness, childfree people (and especially childfree women) face social sanctions for deciding not to become parents, being broadly perceived more negatively than childless people (who do not have children but want them) and parents. Such sanctions include social confrontations in which others (e.g., family members) question or contest the legitimacy of their childfree identity. Media coverage of voluntary childlessness forwards the notion that motherhood and femininity are inseparable and that voluntary childlessness is an issue that primarily concerns and affects women. Furthermore, childfree people face discrimination in health care contexts when seeking voluntary sterilization and in workplace contexts when “family-friendly” policies create unequal distributions of labor for those without children. Members of the childfree community use the Internet to share resources and seek support to navigate challenging interactions with outsiders. Beyond this, although some studies have begun to interrogate the roles of geographic location, race, and sexual orientation in shaping the experience of voluntary childlessness, at present, a largely White, wealthy, able-bodied, cisgender, heteronormative, and Western view of this topic is still perpetuated in the literature.