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Health communication is a technique and a field of study involving the communication of health-related information to a variety of audiences with different levels of education in health and science. People may practice health communication for many reasons, ranging from educating students about health to persuading politicians to act on issues relating to health. Most people do not have a great deal of formal education in health or in science, and modern issues in health and medicine can be highly scientific and technical in nature. People who work in the health communication field aim to bridge that knowledge gap.
Many different educational pathways can lead to careers in practical or academic health communication. Some people study sciences or public health and supplement their health-related knowledge with courses in communication. Others may primarily study communication and supplement their communications education with science and health courses. Either way, communication skills and general knowledge of science and health are necessary for effective and understandable health communication.
Health communication in any form must meet many criteria in order to be effective and useful. Most importantly, the information communicated must be accurate and without bias. It must also be balanced — the positive and negative aspects of a given issue must be well explained. The data that the communicator presents should also come from a credible and accessible source. While people should be able to find further information on the information, they should also be able to make informed decisions based on what the communicator chooses to present.
While it is an area of academic study and practice in and of itself, health communication is also a skill that professionals in many different health-related fields can use. Doctors, for example, use these techniques to communicate with their patients. Their patients may not be able to fully understand the scientific details of a given condition, but the doctor still must give them enough information to allow them to make informed decisions.
There are many different channels through which health information can be communicated, so it is important for health communicators to understand their audiences. Personal meetings or small-scale presentations, for example, differ greatly from televised health advisories. The Internet in particular adds an important dimension to health communication as nearly anyone can post health advice online. There is an abundance of such information online, and it is not all legitimate. Individuals seeking health information online should check their sources or talk to a professional before trusting the information they find on the Internet.