Someone’s Health Depends on It: A Guide to Digital Health Communication for Every Audience

By Amy Sanders

Only 12% of the U.S. population have the skills needed to obtain, process, and understand health information (NAAL). This statistic is staggering when you consider how many people consume health information online; according to Pew, 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year. What does this mean for digital health communicators?

First, at some point we are all health communicators. We all need to know how to explain and understand health information. But, if you are a digital health communicator, you’re an information broker – providing valuable health information that is 1) understandable and 2) consumable. Your online channel (e.g. Twitter vs. website) of communication will be highly dependent on your audience.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when writing for any audience:

Make the style and formatting approachable. Only 12 percent of the U.S. population has a proficient health literacy level to obtain, process, and understand health information (HHS). To ensure that information is easily read by everyone, remember:

  • Active (vs. passive) voice is more easily understood.
  • Short sentences (15 words or less) are better for conveying complex ideas.
  • Visuals (e.g. infographics) can help overcome communication barriers.
  • An opportunity for people a way to ask additional questions (e.g. phone number, Facebook, etc.) ensures that unclear information can be clarified.

Create a communication checklist. No matter what the size of your team or the scope of your health topic(s), a communication checklist can be invaluable. Of course, you’ll need to tailor your checklist to fit your purpose. Try to include audience preferences, key information to convey, and your goals and objectives. Consider including the following questions in your own checklist:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What are the top 5 characteristics that define this population?
  • Which communication channel(s) does your audience use most frequently?
  • What is the main point you’re trying to convey?
  • How can your audience take action based on this information?
  • When is it best to convey this information?
  • How will you measure if you successfully communicated this information?

A simple, easy-to-use checklist or guidelines document will ensure you deliver the right health information in a way that’s easy to understand. Treat your checklist as a living document, updating as needed based on your goals and objectives. Remember, as a digital health communicator, you have a responsibility to communicate complex topics clearly and effectively. A person’s health may depend on it!

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