Health Communication

Public Health Communications: A Public Health Intervention

This document describes how Public Health (PH) communications is a strategic approach to support and improve population health.  This document intends to support a common understanding of PH communications among Population and Public Health (PPH) staff, leadership and the broader system. 

Public health communication is the development, dissemination, and evaluation of relevant, accurate, accessible, and understandable information shared with and received from intended audiences to protect and advance the health of the public.

Public health communication is inherently interventionist, seeking to promote and protect health through change at all levels of influence.1

Public health communication is a key intervention used by public health practitioners at all levels.  It embraces a range of communication strategies. Public health communication has a number of purposes such as:

  • Influencing social norms
  • Advocating for healthy public policy
  • Providing public alerts
  • Increasing individual knowledge and awareness and promoting behaviour change

Audiences range from individuals, groups, communities, stakeholders, to decision-makers, and community partners.  Public health communication is bi-directional, i.e., between PPH and community members.  Communication can be a cost-effective population-based strategy.  Effective communication strategies and mechanisms have the potential to quickly reach large audiences or specific groups and individuals, and provide a means to receive information.   Public health communication strategies are high quality and targeted that reflect the interest, needs and values of the intended audience.

How do PPH Communications relate to PH practice?

Public health communication is a core competency of all public health practitioners.  A public health practitioner is required to:

  • Communicate effectively with individuals, families, groups, communities and colleagues
  • Interpret information for professional, non-professional and community audiences
  • Mobilize individuals and communities by using appropriate media, community resources and social marketing techniques
  • Use current technology to communicate effectively2

Accreditation Canada (AC) standards require the PPH program develop and implement effective health communication strategies with partners and input from the community.  The AC standards state that public health communication strategies are to consider ongoing public health issues and emerging  issues requiring health communication e.g., disease outbreaks, emergency responses.  These standards also call for PPH to use a variety of methods including websites, media reports and interviews, social media and public alerting.

References

  1. Bernhardt, J. (2004).  Communication at the Core of Effective Public Health. American Journal of Public Health. 94:12 pg. 2051-2053.
  2. Core Competencies for Public Health in Canada. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada. Available at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/php-psp/ccph-cesp/pdfs/cc-manual-eng090407.pdf