Communication Theory and Health Communication Practice: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same1

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This article considers one of the most fundamental concerns of health communication scholars, educators, and professionals—the relationship between communication theory and health communication practice. Assertions about the important role of communication in health care—as both problem and potential solution—have become increasingly common, as have discussions of theoretical advances in communication and health communication. That said, the fundamental challenge of improving provider–patient communication, and health communication outcomes more generally, persists—and, indeed, appears to be resistant to change. Inadequacies in the articulation and translation of communication theory for health care practice represent a substantial part of the problem. Scholars of communication embrace the complexity and nuanced nature of the process. However, when communication concepts are appropriated within health care discourse and practice, the complexity and nuance are often glossed over, favoring instead simpler, information-exchange perspectives. The changing health care and wellness landscape, with its growing range of health information services, sources, and settings, is unlikely to alleviate the consequences of this translation problem; rather, it threatens to exacerbate it. This article examines these issues, provides illustrations of situations that are emblematic of the translational gap, and highlights concepts that may help to enrich the contribution of communication theory in health care, health education, and professional practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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