Approaches to health communication

It is important to remember that people respond to messages differently and that what might persuade one person may not appeal to another. Generally there are four approaches to health communication.

Informative communication provides information about a new idea and makes it familiar to people. Mass media of this type is mostly used for wide coverage and reaching a large audience. Print materials and interpersonal communication are used to reinforce mass media messages and inform people in more detail and in ways that are more tailored to them as individuals.

Educative communication is where a new idea on health behaviour is explained, including its strengths and weaknesses. This approach is used when people are already aware of an issue, but need more information or clarification. In this context, interpersonal communication with individuals or small groups is probably the most appropriate way to provide more detailed information and can be reinforced by print materials such as books, pamphlets and other multimedia approaches.

In contrast persuasive communication is usually in the form of a message that promotes a positive change in behaviour and attitudes, and which encourages that audience to accept the new idea. This approach to message development involves finding out what most appeals to a particular audience. Persuasive approaches are more effective than coercive approaches in achieving behaviour change (Figure 9.5).

A bed net is fixed up in a bedroom.

Figure 9.5 When health communication is persuasive it can lead to really effective health improvements. (Photo: FMOH/WT)

In prompting communication messages are designed so that they are not easily ignored or forgotten they can be used to remind the audience about something that reinforces earlier messages. Using the entertaining method draws the attention of the audience by using messages which entertain, for example, posters, songs, puppets or film.

Think about a health initiative you have been involved with, either as a worker or as a participant. Read the four approaches to communication above again and consider the ways in which the initiative was taken forward.

Show answer

You will probably have decided that more than one of these ways of communicating was used. Good health communication recognises that people are different and that plenty of channels of communication increase the chances of messages getting through.

Box 9.2 summarises the main characteristics of effective communication.

Box 9.2 Main characteristics of effective communication

  • Promotes actions that are realistic within the constraints faced by the community
  • Builds on people's existing beliefs and practices
  • Is repeated and reinforced over time using different methods
  • Is adaptable and uses established channels of communication
  • Is entertaining and attracts the community's attention
  • Uses simple, clear and straightforward language
  • Emphasises the short-term benefits of taking action
  • Uses demonstrations to show the practical benefits of adopting beneficial practices
  • Develops a natural style: each person has his or her own natural way of presenting ideas
  • Provides opportunities for dialogue and discussion.
Last modified: Saturday, 28 June 2014, 11:37 AM