Tell me more about your field…

Image Courtesy AHRQ

A friend asked me tonight to give an overview of my field – public health. Of course, I could not do that. First, I am fairly new to public health, after working in marketing for two years and completing my master’s degree. Second, the field is way too broad and figuring out an entry point definitely depends on what you do within public health. And for me, this is health communication. So, I will share below part of the conversation we had, which is basically me trying to explain the role of social marketing and health communication within the wider public health agenda:

“I entered the field of public health through my education and experience in marketing and communication. I wanted to transfer my background to addressing social and public health issues. Health communication and social marketing is relatively new when compared to other public health areas. The American public health association included health communication within its auspices only within the last 20 years… and a document called “healthy people 2010″ developed in the early 1990′s to guide public health policies in the US included health communication on its agenda for the first time…With the release of healthy people 2020, the focus is now on getting Americans access to information in an equitable way as well as in access to accurate and timely health information

“A textbook definition for health communication is: The art and technique of informing, influencing, and motivating individual, institutional, and public audiences about important health issues. Similarly, social marketing applies the rules and principles of traditional marketing to achieve specific behavioral (or social) goals

“Essentially, many of what we do is an attempt to either change high risk behaviors (as in the case of HIV and STDs) or get people to adopt healthy or prosocial behaviors

“People who work within this fields so a range of things. many focus on designing public health campaigns for television, radio, print, the internet, etc

“My interest in communication includes the use of mass media (radio, tv, internet) to promote healthy behaviors…but I am also interested in what’s called “health information seeking behaviors” and that is how, what, when, why etc people seek out health information and how we can use that knowledge to advance prevention messages and interventions

“For example, a lot of research in this country is done on information seeking as it relates to cancer. Not much is known about HIV/STD information-seeking behavior. This is a major barrier if you are trying to do a communication-based project addressing HIV and the like

“There is another angle to health communication with active research and practice: patient-provider communication. This area deals directly with the medical professions in that much of the research takes place in medical settings and seek to address how those professionals interact with their patients.”

I realize now that my answer only touched the tip of the iceberg for the field…

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