Health Communication

Learning Objectives


14.1  Identify the barriers to successful provider-client communication and evaluate possible remedies.

14.2  Describe the importance of family, friends, and support groups as agents of health communication.

14.3  Explain how the hospital culture itself can impede good health communication and evaluate possible remedies.

14.4  Judge the contribution of entertainment media to good and harmful health communication.

14.5  Judge the benefits and drawbacks of the Internet and social network sites as sources of health communication.

14.6  Describe the elements of an effective health communication campaign.




This chapter focuses on the use of interpersonal and mediated communication to influence our individual decisions related to health. It looks at provider-client communication; the many interpersonal contexts in which health is discussed; how to improve use of the Internet and other digital communication technologies for finding, storing, and sharing health information; and health campaigns designed to promote good health and increase awareness of disease.




  • Activity: Test Your Knowledge of Heart Diseases

Visit the Centers for Disease Control’s Heart Disease quiz at and take the test.  Were you surprised by your high (or low) level of knowledge? What, if anything, did you learn about your own health literacy from taking the quiz?

  • Activity: Test Your Alcohol Knowledge

Take the quiz at to test your knowledge of the health effects of alcohol consumption. How well did you do on the quiz? Were you surprised by your high (or low) level of knowledge? What, if anything, did you learn about your own health literacy from taking the quiz?

  • Activity: Am I Stressed?

Take the Stress Quiz at This quiz is aimed at students. What did the results tell you? Are you more or less stressed than you thought you were before taking the quiz? What will you do about it? What, if anything, did you learn about your own health literacy from taking the quiz?



1.      Your text identifies 6 primary barriers to successful provider-client communication. List at least four and explain why the barrier exists and how it interferes with provider-client communication.


Sample answer: Health care providers are not trained in interpersonal communication. Their schooling is almost exclusively focused on the technical aspects of their jobs. They are not trained in interpersonal communication, so meaning-making mistakes can easily happen. Providers rely too much on technical jargon that patients simply do not understand. There is a power distance between providers and their clients, so patients are unwilling to challenge their providers or even ask questions. Patients are reluctant to speak up because, beyond the power issue, they trust providers more than they trust themselves, especially in stressful situations like medical visits. Another problem is that providers have little time to spend with patients, making explanations and instructions too time-consuming, especially as medicine has become more sophisticated. Finally, providers fear malpractice suits, so they themselves are afraid to say too much.


2.      What are adverse events? How does hospital culture produce communication problems that lead to their occurrence and how can they be overcome?


Sample answer: Adverse events, unintended injuries or complications caused by healthcare management, are the third-leading cause of death in America. They are often caused by communication breakdown between staff members, and there are two major parts of this problem of poor hospital staff communication. The first, a big part of hospital culture, is the deference nurses and other staff typically pay to surgeons. The other is the complexity of many routine hospital activities which leaves room for much miscommunication, especially as patients are handed off from one member to another. To help with the first problem, many hospitals have instituted programs intended to change hospitals’ typically hierarchical culture to the point that nurses and other staff feel comfortable speaking up, using techniques like pre-operative briefings and time outs during procedures. The second problem is attacked by using information-sharing techniques from other high-stress situations like crew changes on submarines.

Go to the Source

Becker, M. H. (1974). “The Health Belief Model and Personal Health Behavior.” Health Education Monographs, 2: 324–508.

Morgan, S. E., L. Movius, and M. J. Cody. (2009). “The Power of Narratives: The Effect of Entertainment Television Organ Donation Storylines on the Attitudes, Knowledge, and Behaviors of Donors and Nondonors.” Journal of Communication, 59: 135–151.

Snyder, L. B. (2007). “Health Communication Campaigns and Their Impact on Behavior.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 39: S32-S40.


This is arguably the most comprehensive and authoritative health and wellness site on the Internet. The CDC, a government agency, exists to protect America from health, safety and security threats.

The AAFP has chapters around the country and represents more than 120,000 family physicians, residents, and medical students. Its focus is the practice of family medicine.

The NPSF’s focus is adverse events, working to ensure that patients and those who care for them are free from harm. This site offers much information on its efforts to advance patient safety and strategies to prevent harm.

The AMA is the country’s largest professional association of health care providers. Its site offers a good deal of information that is of interest to the public as well.

The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. It “conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer patients and the families of cancer patients.” The site is comprehensive and authoritative.

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