Defining Health Communication

There are several definitions of health communication. For the most part, all of them point to a similar role of this approach in the process of advocating for and improving individual or public health outcomes. This section analyzes and aims to consolidate different definitions for health communication. This analysis starts from the literal and historical meaning of the word communication. What Is Communication?

An understanding of health communication theory and practice requires reflection on the literal meaning of the word communication. Communication is defined in this way: “1. Exchange of information, between individuals, for example, by means of speaking, writing, or using a common system of signs and behaviors; 2. Message—a spoken or written message; 3. Act of communicating ; 4. Rapport—a sense of mutual understanding and sympathy; 5.

Access—a means of access or communication, for example, a connecting door” (Encarta Dictionary: English, North America). In fact, all of these meanings can help define the modalities of well-designed health communication programs. As with other forms of communication, health communication should be based on a two-way exchange of information that uses a “common system of signs and behaviors.”


It should be accessible and create “mutual feelings of understanding and sympathy” among members of the communication team and intended audiences (all audiences the 4 HEALTH COMMUNICATION: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE Schiavo.c01 2/19/07 1:30 PM Page 4 health communication program is seeking to influence and engage in the communication process; also referred to as target audiences). Finally, communication channels (the means or path used to reach intended audiences with health communication messages and materials, such as the mass media) and messages are the “connecting doors” that allow health communication interventions to reach intended audiences.

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