Three Simple Tips for Improved Public Health Communications

Based in Oklahoma City, OK, William D. Jones, MD, has specialized as an occupational and preventive medicine physician since completing his residency in 1994. Over the course of his medical career in Oklahoma City, OK, William D. Jones, MD, has gained experience with effective approaches to public health communication.

When it comes to developing a public health message, there are a number of key areas of focus. To start, messaging must be clear and concise. Public trust and transparency are key to successfully delivering public health communications. Misleading or unclear copy can result in the general public ignoring or even taking an adversarial stance to messaging.

Public health messages are also typically made with some call to action in mind. If the general public is not clear on exactly what they need to do during a public health emergency, the messaging has failed.

Next, public health communications should be developed with diversity and inclusivity in mind. As a basic example, consider senior citizens and the use of online communications. According to Pew Research Center, only 61 percent of Americans over the age of 65 use a smartphone, with just 45 percent maintaining a social media presence. Public health messaging that only uses online communications will struggle to reach this group.

Other issues of diversity and inclusivity are more complex. It is advisable for those releasing the message to collaborate with community health groups to ensure the message has reached as wide an audience as possible.

Finally, medical professionals cannot overlook the importance of the aesthetic design of a public health campaign. While public health crises are far more urgent than a new marketing campaign, the principles are similar. Posters, for example, should feature the most pressing information at the top. Individuals usually interpret information the same way they would while reading a book, meaning copy should flow from left to right and from top to bottom. Large sans serif fonts and accompanying graphics can also make for effective additions to a public health communication.

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