In This Article Health Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Edited Volumes
  • Datasets and Archives
  • Journals
  • Health Campaigns Research
  • Fear Appeal Research
  • Health Literacy
  • Multicultural Approaches
  • Patient/Parent/Provider Communication
  • Media Content
  • Interactivity/Technology
  • Audience Segmentation
  • Contemporary Issues

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Communication Health Communication
Glenn Leshner, Elizabeth Gardner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0074


The area of health communication research and theory focuses primarily on the application of communication theory, concepts, and strategies in the service of enhancing public health, and understanding how such processes work. The approaches are numerous and represent significant scholarship across bio-psycho-social levels of analysis. Research can range from how individuals cognitively and emotionally process individual health-related messages to social and cultural contexts that influence how health campaigns are implemented. It can include targeted messaging through mass media or interpersonal communication between patient and health-care provider. Recently, research on issues involving new media and technology has emerged. Overall, research represents efforts from two perspectives: from the field of public health and from the field of communication. Although both areas are interested in improving public health as a general goal, communication scholars emphasize theory and processes, while public health emphasizes outcomes. Recent advances in health communication are integrating these two approaches.

General Overviews

Health communication books primarily revolve around the interactions between health concerns and the health industry with interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication. Authors generally come from either the communication or public health disciplines. The interdisciplinary nature of health communication research is blurring those distinctions, however. Health communication research draws on a large variety of theoretical approaches, especially those from allied fields such as psychology, sociology, and public policy. Research also crosses bio-psycho-social levels of analyses and includes both quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches. Berry 2007 explores the general applications of communication, both verbal and nonverbal, for those whose work involves communicating with patients and relatives, and other careers. Institute of Medicine 2002 focuses on message tailoring. Guttman 2000 discusses values, ethics, and responsibilities of public health campaigns. Schiavo 2007, Thomas 2006, and Wright, et al. 2008 comprehensively cover a wide range of health communication topics. Witte, et al. 2001 is an often cited book on theoretically based health message design.

  • Berry, Dianne. 2007. Health communication: Theory and practice. Maidenhead, UK: Open Univ. Press.

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    This book includes chapters on hard-to-reach populations and communication in difficult situations (e.g., genetic counseling). Two chapters are devoted to health information campaigns and skills training. The book would be a useful supplementary text for health psychology or public health students.

  • Guttman, Nurit. 2000. Public health communication interventions: Values and ethical dilemmas. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    In discussing values, ethics, and responsibilities of public health campaigns, Guttman draws on a variety of theoretical frameworks to address the central question of how far interventions should go to change people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. She includes “work sheets” for analyzing and comparing health communication interventions.

  • Institute of Medicine. 2002. Committee on Communication for Behavior Change in the 21st Century: Improving the health of diverse populations. In Speaking of health: Assessing health communication strategies for diverse populations. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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    This book focuses on message tailoring for reaching target audiences in meaningful ways. It also suggests creative strategies for communicating with diverse audiences. The book is useful for students in health communication and public health, scholars, and practitioners, who are interested in communicating with diverse communities about health issues.

  • Schiavo, Renata. 2007. Health communication: From theory to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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    A comprehensive introduction to current issues, theories, and special topics in health communication, combined with a guide to health communication campaigns and program development. The book is designed as an introductory text for students and professionals with no significant field experience, but it also includes advanced topics for health communication practitioners and researchers. It is well indexed, making the book ideal for students who wish to delve deeper into a particular topic.

  • Thomas, Richard K. 2006. Health communication. New York: Springer.

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    This book provides a broad background in health communication, with examples of successful applications. It covers basic theory, design strategies for health campaigns, and program evaluation. Includes a discussion on interactive health media in addition to traditional mass media, and covers ways to reach at-risk populations. It can be a useful introductory/supplemental text for novice undergraduate students in communication, public health, and related courses.

  • Witte, Kim, Gary Meyer, and Dennis Martell. 2001. Effective health risk messages: A step-by-step guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This book provides instructions for developing theoretically based campaign messages. Introduces theories that inform message development and campaign evaluation. Worksheets are provided at the end of each chapter to provide readers with hands-on, practical experiences in developing effective health risk messages. This book is suitable for practitioners, researchers, and students, and can serve as a supplementary text for public health and health communication classes.

  • Wright, Kevin B., Lisa Sparks, and H. Dan O’Hair. 2008. Health communication in the 21st century. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    This book was written by communication scholars and, as such, has a distinct communication point of view. It is suitable for undergraduate students in an introductory course in health communication, and includes sections on social and cultural contexts, new media, interpersonal communication issues, and emerging challenges. It also can work for students in communication and health-care professions.

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