What are two key elements of health communication that are most essential for a public health leader and why?

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A public health care leader is responsible for health communication in a number of types of situations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute have worked with an agreed upon definition of and strategy for effective health care communication. The definition is that communication techniques are used to inform and influence people's behaviors:

The study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health. (CDC and the National Cancer Institute)

The steps include defining what the health threat is, e.g., broken water main or natural disaster; developing effective messages; and implementing communication of preset messages. While there are a number of other steps in the process, two key steps are the earliest ones.

It is vital that as a public health leader you identify and define the problem; you must answer "What is out there?" When there was an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in 1976 after a deadly outbreak of pneumonia in Philadelphia, the first thing the CDC was called upon to do was to identify and define what it was.

It is equally vital that as a public health leader you identify what message you want to give and how you want that message to influence a population's behavior because a change in behavior is what is required. During the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, knowing how the CDC wanted to influence people to change their behavior was critical to stopping the pandemic:

[H]ealth communication is ... a strategic communication science process that helps us confront imposing public health challenges. The process includes using multiple behavioral and social learning theories and models to advance program planning ... [with the] goal: creating social change by changing people's attitudes, external structures, and/or modify or eliminate certain behaviors. (CDC)


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