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Health Communication Strategies

Health Communication Strategies


Health communication can take many forms, both written and verbal, traditional outlets and new media outlets. While you might be excited to get started with your new program, you must first develop a sound strategic plan. All strategic communication planning involves some variation on these steps

  • Identify the health problem and determine whether communication should be part of the intervention
  • Identify the audience for the communication program and determine the best ways to reach them
  • Develop and test communication concepts, messages, and materials with representatives of the target audiences
  • Implement the health communication program based on results of the testing
  • Assess how effectively the messages reached the target audience and modify the communication program if necessary

CDC's HealthCommWorks is a free, Web-based set of tools that synthesize research and expert consensus to optimize message development, social media strategy, and evaluation.

The Online Health Program Planner is a collection of health planning tools from Public Health Ontario and the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools.


Now that you have a plan, how do you reach your target audience? Effective health communication campaigns use various methods to reach intended audiences:

Media Literacy—teaches intended audiences (often youth) to analyze media messages to identify the sponsors motives; also teaches communicators how to create messages geared to the intended audience's point of view

Media Advocacy—through influencing the mass medias selection of topics and shaping the debate on these issues, seeks to change the social and political environment in which decisions on health and health resources are made

Advertising—places paid or public service messages in the media or in public spaces to increase awareness of and support for a product, service, or behavior

Entertainment Education—seeks to include health-promoting messages and storylines into entertainment and news programs or to eliminate messages that counter health messages; can also include seeking entertainment industry support for a health issue

Individual and Group Instruction—influences, counsels, and provides skills to support healthy behaviors

Partnership Development—increases support for a program or issue by harnessing the influence, credibility, and resources of profit, nonprofit, or governmental organizations


Budgets for health communication initiatives vary. If your funds are limited, there are still opportunities to develop and implement health communications plans. Here are some tips for working effectively and efficiently on a tight budget:

  • Work with partners who can add their resources to your own
  • Conduct activities on a smaller scale
  • Use volunteer assistance from health communications specialists who may be able to offer pro bono services or consider retired specialists or professors and graduate level students from the local college/university
  • Seek out existing information and approaches developed by programs that have addressed similar issues to reduce developmental costs. See Campaign Resources page for examples.

Don't let budget constraints keep you from setting objectives, learning about your intended audience, or pretesting. Neglecting any of these steps could limit your program's effectiveness before it starts.


These resources will help you develop, deliver, and assess your health communication strategies. Resources on related areas including health and social marketing, internet campaigns, easy to read materials, interpretation, and health literacy are also included.

Health Communications, including Campaign Development, Research, Evaluation, and more

Campaign Development

Gateway to Health Communication and Social Marketing Practice
From CDC, offers resources to build health communications and social marketing campaigns. Includes resources on audience, campaigns, channels, tools, risk communication, and evaluation.

Communication Planning With CDCynergy
A Web site and interactive health communication planning tool from CDC. Includes original editions and new “Lite” version for those who have previous social marketing experience and familiarity with the full edition.

Making Health Communication Programs Work: A Planner's Guide
A publication from the National Cancer Institute (also called the Pink Book), a revision of the original 1989 guide offering planning steps for health communications programs.

Healthy People 2020: Health Communication and Health Information Technology
Overview, objectives, and interventions and resources from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Health Communication Activities from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Human Services
From the US Department of Health and Human Services, a list of resources, including information on health literacy and e-health.

Online Communications Action Center
From Covering Kids and Families, an online training center with all the information needed to plan communications and outreach efforts.


Health Communication Science Digest
From CDC, this series is designed to enhance awareness of emerging health communication and marketing scientific knowledge by providing you easy access to recently published articles and reports with particular relevance for the public health communication community.

STD Communications Interviews with Non-Gay Identified Men who have Sex with Men (NGI MSM) (PDF)
From the CDC, a report developed to address particular gaps in health communication literature on non-gay identified men who have sex with men (MSM), their knowledge of STDs, and their communication preferences.

Sample Programs

Health Communications/Behavioral Interventions Presentations from the 2006 National STD Prevention Conference
From the CDC, abstracts of Health Communications/Behavioral Interventions sessions at the 2006 National STD Prevention conference.


Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health (PDF)
From the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review, offers a framework for program evaluation to ensure that amidst the complex transition in public health, accountability and commitment to achieving measurable health outcomes is maintained.

Evaluation Primer on Health Risk Communication Programs
From the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, covers key principles and techniques to assist health risk communicators to improve their overall effectiveness in evaluating health risk messages and materials.


Journal of Health Communication
From the George Washington University Center for Global Health, a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal that presents the latest development in the field of health communication including research in risk communication, health literacy, social marketing, communication (from interpersonal to mass media), psychology, government, policy-making, and health education around the world.

Media/Materials Clearinghouse
From the Health Communication Partnership, the Media/Materials Clearinghouse (M/MC) is an international resource for all those with an interest in health communication materials. Includes materials En Español.

Specific Populations

The Gender Guide for Health Communication Programs
From Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Center for Communication Programs (CCP). Gender perspectives arise from communities’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes. Communication messages and interventions can reinforce existing beliefs and social norms or ultimately establish new beliefs, attitudes, and social norms. Health communication can markedly affect the understanding and acceptance of new health behaviors and revised gender perspectives.

A Guide to Choosing and Adapting Culturally and Linguistically Competent Health Promotion Materials (PDF)
From the National Center for Cultural Competence, provides guidance on how to insure that health promotion materials reflect the principles and practices of cultural and linguistic competence. Also available En Español. (PDF)

Speaking of Health: Assessing Health Communications Strategies for Diverse Populations
A report from the Institute of Medicine addressing the challenge of improving health communications in a racially and culturally diverse society.

Youth Social Marketing Toolkit
From the California STD/HIV Prevention Training Center, provides an overview of how agencies with limited financial resources can develop a social marketing campaign that reaches youth and young adults.


Coalition for Health Communication
An inter-organizational task force, including the CDC, whose mission is to strengthen the identity and advance the field of health communication.

Media Literacy

Media Literacy Fact Sheet
From the Kaiser Family Foundation, focuses on the importance of education of children and youth to enable them to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms.

Media Advocacy

American Public Health Association Media Advocacy Manual (PDF)
Covers message development, contacting the media, and how to use the media to advance public health communication goals through letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and editorial board meetings.

Media Advocacy Workbook (PDF)
From the Health Communication Unit of the Centre for Health Promotion of the University of Toronto, examines the difference between education campaigns and media advocacy, the advantages of media advocacy, and steps to designing and implementing a media advocacy campaign.


Re-powering the Public Interest: New Media and the Future of Public Service Advertising (PDF)
From Kaiser Family Foundation, case studies on the use of new media, including mobile marketing, viral campaigns, adver-gaming, and other forms of new media in public education advertising.

Entertainment Education

Resources for TV Writers and Producers
From the CDC, includes specific tip sheets on multiple HIV and Hepatitis topics, AIDS and STDs in youth, and Tuberculosis.

Partnership Development

Principles of Good Community-Campus Partnerships
Community Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) offers a set of partnership principles and articles exploring each principle. Although the principles are geared towards community-campus partnerships, they are relevant to all seeking to develop and improve partnerships for health. Go to the About Us page, and click on CCPH Principles of Partnership.

Building Partnerships
From Covering Kids and Families, information on forging partnerships with businesses, organizations, religious congregations, and other groups.

Health/Social Marketing

Health Marketing
Resources from CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing, including health marketing basics and resources and tools.

Using of the Internet for Prevention Campaigns

Interventions Can Ease Dangers of Cybersex: Counselors Educate While in Chatrooms
This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) article was republished on The Body Website. It offers examples of two successful internet interventions (see Campaign Overviews for more information). The internet has become an increasingly important way to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) with prevention messages. Internet HIV prevention interventions have two advantages over other interventions: They reach people when they are seeking an anonymous sexual partner, and they provide anonymity so people feel more comfortable discussing their questions and problems.

National Guidelines for Internet-based STD and HIV Prevention: Accessing the Power of the Internet for Public Health
From the National Coalition of STD Directors, a resource for health departments and community based organizations in using the Internet as a tool for the control and prevention of STDs, including HIV.

Easy to Read Materials

Simply Put (PDF)
From the CDC and ATSDR, tips for creating easy-to-read print materials your audience will want to read and use.

Plain Language: Improving Communications from the Federal Government to the Public
From the Web Content Management Working Group of the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI), plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.

Easy to Read Health Materials, National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus
From the National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, includes information on AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Tuberculosis, and Hepatitis. Available En Español.

How to Write Easy to Read Health Materials
From the National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus, includes how to plan and research, organize and write, evaluate and improve, and inform and stay informed. Available En Español.


A Patient-Centered Guide to Implementing Language Access Services in Healthcare Organizations
From the Office of Minority Health, a guide to assist healthcare providers in improving access to care and eliminating healthcare disparities through language access services.

Language Services Resource Guide for Health Care Providers (PDF)
From the National Health Law Program and the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, includes resources to develop a language services plan and symbols to use in healthcare settings.

Health Literacy

Health Literacy
From the Health Resources and Services Administration, information and resources on health literacy, which is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Health Literacy Style Manual (PDF)
From Covering Kids & Families, suggestions for developing and improving applications, notices, and other print materials related to government programs for skilled readers as well as for those who struggle to read.

Page Last Updated: August 16, 2013

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