Communication Science Experience

Our goal is to be a trusted advisor to our clients by applying best practices in communication research, design, and delivery. With backgrounds in public health, social sciences, and communication, our researchers help clients such as federal and state agencies, foundations, and private-sector organizations promote behavior change across a range of topics—from health promotion to financial and environmental literacy to energy awareness and knowledge.


Survey Instruments, Tools, and Decision Aids

Health Literacy Skills Instrument

We developed the Health Literacy Skills Instrument to assess four domains of health literacy skills:

  • Print literacy (reading and writing)
  • Numeracy skills
  • Oral literacy skills (listening)
  • Information seeking (navigation of Internet and health systems).

The Health Literacy Skills Instrument can be used for intervention research studies and surveillance. It is available for public use on our site.

Developing and Testing Electronic Decision Aids

Decision aids support shared decision making among consumers, patients, families, and health care providers. They can decrease information complexity, enhance communication, and promote behavior change. We are assisting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with development of “video” doctors for HIV-positive patients. We are also creating tools that support informed decision making about genetic sequencing for parents of newborns and young children and an interactive tool to support decision making about clinical trials for the National Institutes of Health.

Text Messaging for Patients Living with HIV/AIDS

Working with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, we created a mobile technology strategy to improve interaction among providers, support staff, and patients living with HIV/AIDS. More than 80 percent of American adults own a mobile phone, making it a useful tool to help manage many aspects of chronic disease. By implementing a two-way text messaging campaign, providers can now deliver appointment reminders, encourage medication adherence and safe behavior, and provide overall support to their patients.

Tools for Improving Health Care Quality and Patient Safety

We develop tools and products to ensure that health care professionals and consumers have accurate information to make better decisions, including:

  • Web-based "Doc Alerts" to transmit U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations to physicians via handheld devices
  • Expert briefs, keynote speeches, presentations, consumer advice columns, and commentaries on important health care topics.

Health and Risk Communication

We work with organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration to compile evidence on consumer and provider engagement with advertising and marketing (e.g., direct-to-consumer [DTC] prescription drug advertising). Examples include:

  • Investigation of consumer experience with online prescription drug information
  • Content analysis of DTC advertising via web-based and mobile communications
  • Surveys of health care professionals’ perceptions of DTC and consumers’ needs and preferred sources of information related to prescription drugs
  • Studies of consumer response to corrective advertising intended to counteract misleading DTC advertising
  • Experimental studies to examine how risks and benefits of prescription drug information in DTC advertising are received by adolescents.

Marketing and Media Campaigns

We connect with and engage people and communities of interest through high-impact messages and next-generation strategies that attract attention and inspire action. We work with clients to develop award-winning, scientifically grounded communication that is clear, accurate, and credible. Tapping into the art and science of communication, we help shape the conversation through paid, earned, and owned media strategies, bringing to bear a portfolio of evidence. For example, our provider-focused campaign portfolio helps clients navigate the information needs and media habits of those on the frontlines working with patients and clients in the fight against HIV. By forming strategic partnerships with the likes of Medscape, Elsevier, and PatientsLikeMe, we help clients enlist today’s digital media environment to expand reach and drive engagement. Our experience includes the following:

  • With CDC, we developed Show Your Love, a social marketing and communication campaign that focuses on encouraging preconception health among multicultural women ages 18-44. Show Your Love has earned two Telly awards and a Blue Pencil & Gold Screen award from the National Association of Government Communicators.
  • We conducted a web-based evaluation of the Take Charge. Take the Test. campaign for HIV testing among African American women to assess receptivity to campaign ads and the relationship between exposure to ads and changes in HIV testing–related outcomes.
  • We conducted a process and outcome evaluation of the Prevention Is Care campaign, which was developed to help providers educate their patients about HIV prevention. We evaluated campaign awareness and campaign impact on counseling behavior and patient behavior.

Infectious Diseases

Advances in HIV treatment philosophy (“treatment as prevention”) coupled with new biomedical approaches (pre-exposure prophylaxis [PrEP] and postexposure prophylaxis [PEP]) are changing the HIV prevention landscape. Effective communication campaigns can promote HIV awareness, dialogue, knowledge, testing, prevention, and engagement in care, while also combating misperceptions and complacency. We conduct formative research that is critical to inform the development of successful communication campaigns and comprehensive process and outcome evaluations that inform policy and future funding decisions.

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. For example, we synthesize research findings and data into print and web-based materials on the use and abuse of anabolic steroids, cocaine, prescription drugs, and tobacco. We also conduct formative research to assess women’s knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors regarding alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Global Health

To transfer global health-related knowledge to decision makers and policymakers, we study international health trends, emerging programs and technical issues, and future information needs. Our work includes designing and developing communication strategies, marketing campaigns, and other tools to increase awareness and knowledge of several health promotion and chronic disease issues.

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... Read more »