Health Communication and Marketing: Experience

Health Literacy and Informed Decision Making

Our communication experts have advanced health literacy by developing a comprehensive measure that can be used in intervention studies and to monitor health literacy at the population level. We developed and are evaluating a tool to help primary care providers screen women for BRCA gene mutations associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. In addition, we evaluated the effectiveness of print and television advertisements in helping consumers make informed decisions about prescription medications.

Cancer and Other Chronic Diseases

Based on a comprehensive framework, we created measures to reflect patient-centered communication in cancer care. We also developed an inventory of existing measures, identified leading measures, and then developed and tested new measures for use in population-level surveillance and quality-of-care monitoring. Other examples of our work in this arena include:

  • Assessing the experience of smokers, lung cancer survivors, and physicians related to lung cancer screening
  • Exploring information needs of hematologic cancer patients, caregivers, and family/friends; identifying gaps in existing materials; and creating and evaluating an interactive, computer-based toolkit to address the audiences' needs
  • Adapting tailored messaging strategies to help couples manage chronic illnesses, specifically lupus and arthritis


We have conducted formative research to inform and subsequently evaluate HIV testing and prevention campaigns targeting health care providers and at-risk consumers. We worked with international agencies to raise awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS issues and activities and share innovations and developments in HIV-related surveillance. We have also:

  • Conducted formative, process, and outcome evaluation in support of CDC's Act Against AIDS communication campaign and its phases
  • Collaborated with CDC in developing the next generation of HIV prevention messages for men who have sex with men through literature review and expert consultation
  • Conducted exploratory, ethnographic research to inform the development of a potential social marketing intervention to address the disproportionately high rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the African American population

Public Health Preparedness, Environmental, and Community Health

We are studying the social cognitive factors that underlie comprehension and acceptance of pandemic influenza messages, testing preparedness toolkits and educational materials, and assessing communication channels. We are also evaluating the effectiveness and cost implications of North Carolina's Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education program.

Global Health

We have studied international health trends, emerging programs and technical issues, and future information needs to transfer knowledge to decision makers and policy makers in the global health arena.

We prepare annual reports for the U.S. Congress documenting the progress of the Child Survival and Health Grants Program, the President's Malaria Initiative, the Maternal and Child Health Program, and the Avian Influenza Programs Fund. We also designed and developed communication strategies, marketing campaigns, and other tools to increase attendance at conferences addressing global health issues.

Substance Abuse and Addiction

We have a long history of working to expand knowledge about the consequences of substance abuse and the efficacy of programs that combat it. We have synthesized research findings and data into print and web-based materials on the use and abuse of anabolic steroids, cocaine, prescription drugs, and tobacco for use by researchers, practitioners, and the general public. We have conducted formative research to assess women's knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors regarding alcohol consumption and its risks to both women and babies during pregnancy.

We also produce a peer-reviewed journal for drug abuse researchers and treatment providers designed to bridge the gap between research and practice.

Media Campaigns

We have evaluated numerous media campaigns to help clients determine the effectiveness of their message in reaching target audiences and in identifying whether the message changed or impacted behavior. Some of these media campaigns include:

  • Conducting an experimental efficacy study to evaluate "Parents Speak Up," a nationally televised advertising campaign that encourages parents to talk "early and often" to their children about waiting to have sex
  • Evaluating the nationally televised "truth" youth smoking prevention campaign using national media tracking surveys, data from national drug and substance use surveys, and media-market data on advertising reach
  • Conducting a web-based efficacy experiment to evaluate the impact of the "Take Charge. Take the Test" campaign for HIV testing among African American women. Assess receptivity to campaign ads and the relationship between exposure to ads and changes in HIV testing–related outcomes.

Health Care Quality and Patient Safety

We have developed tools and products to ensure that health care professionals and consumers have the most accurate information to make informed decisions. We have developed web-based "Doc Alerts" to transmit U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations to thousands of physicians via handheld devices. We have also studied the impact of government-funded research on outcomes, quality, cost, use, and access in health care settings. We also prepare expert briefs, keynote speeches, presentations, consumer advice columns, and commentaries on important health care topics.

Health Information Technology, Social Media, and Mobile Technology

Examples of our work in this arena include:

  • Organizing a toolkit of data sources and analytic methods for rigorously evaluating innovative Web 2.0 (Health 2.0) and mobile technology health (mHealth) interventions
  • Tracking exposure, information sharing, and engagement with content from a health campaign on social media sites including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook
  • Designing and implementing a web-hosted Short Message Service (SMS) application for evaluating the use of text message–based mHealth interventions to support disease prevention and management
  • Developing, implementing, and evaluating a multifaceted, tailored, proof-of-concept intervention delivered through SMS aimed at improving health care quality and outcomes for HIV-positive patients treated in an ambulatory care setting
  • Developing a marketing communication strategy for AHRQ's National Resource Center based on an assessment of existing health IT products and audience research regarding needs and interests
  • Refining and expanding the Electronic Preventive Services Selector (ePSS) tool for primary care clinicians, which was designed to provide real-time decision support for physicians as they select the proper preventive service for their patients

Other Topics

  • Conducting research on how best to deliver information about the prevention of birth defects and early detection of developmental disabilities to individuals of reproductive age, parents, early educators, and health care providers
  • Developing and evaluating the impact of graphic images on newly federally mandated warning labels depicting the risks of cigarette smoking on consumer attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and intended behaviors related to cigarette smoking using focus groups and a web-based questionnaire

R. Craig Lefebvre awarded Philip Kotler Social Marketing Distinguished Service Award

R. Craig Lefebvre, Ph.D., lead change designer in the Center for Communication Science at RTI International, has been awarded the Philip Kotler Social Marketing Distinguished Service Award, "The Kotler Glass."

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