This article expands existing health communication principles based on lessons learned from the unique challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers adapted key principles of health communication from the 2014 Ebola crisis and the mad cow disease outbreak in the mid-1990s in light of the challenges that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three general areas of capacity building for health communication have emerged from the ongoing pandemic:
- Be proactive (compete for attention, establish trusted leadership, fight false information)
- Plan ahead, but acknowledge uncertainty (consider growing scientific evidence)
- Focus on people (be aware of health and media literacy)
Health communicators must take into consideration the new challenges not seen before in previous health crises: an unprecedented infodemic, communication of risk and uncertainty, the instantaneous nature of social media and its effect on health-information behaviors, the relationship between health literacy and media literacy, the effects of the pandemic on other mental and physical health issues, and the need for flexibility as the pandemic changes. In light of these new challenges, the authors proposed the following principles for effective health communication:
- Set shared goals
- Establish coordinated responses
- Devise a communication strategy
- Implement the communication plan
- Be ready to adapt
The article provides a checklist of communication practices for each of these principles. It is essential for health communicators to be proactive in addressing these new challenges to increase societal COVID-19 resilience.