Health Communications

Communications is one of the most important tools in our nation’s healthcare system.  It is a component of the system that is required on all service levels ranging from patient-doctor, pharmacist-patient, parent-child, teacher-student, and system-public communications.   In an individual’s lifetime, multiple incidences of health communications will occur and the volume and qualitative nature of these communications events have a direct effect on their overall health.   In fact, evidence shows that poor health communications is a major factor in access to health care, quality of health care, healthcare costs, health disparities and many other important health outcomes.  That is why improving health communications should be a goal and a requirement of all government agencies, insurance companies, and health care providers.   Moreover, individuals must also take responsibility of their own health status by seeking knowledge and tools that can help them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Today’s health communication systems do an inadequate job in delivering understandable and usable information to the public at-large.  And, even though health department managers are aware of the changing healthcare environments, and increasing health disparities, they appear to be stuck in a “groupthink” mindset when it comes to the development of health communications strategy.  Unfortunately, these managers are currently hesitant to implement innovative methodologies and interventions.

A health care system that continues to allocate communications resources to brochures, pamphlets, health fairs and public service announcements will continue to get the same results.  Indeed, to be effective, health education messages should employ techniques similar to-consumer advertisements and other commercial marketing and sales campaigns.

Music-Based Health Communications

The notion of combining health information with contemporary, positive and upbeat musical song formats such as “hip-hop,” “country & western,” “rock” and “soul” is a cutting-edge concept.   However, considering the impact of music on language, fashion and other cultural trends in our society, it’s only natural to project the role music can have in a multi-channel strategy to educate Americans on health and wellness concepts and issues.  Musical melodies provide access to the individual subconscious and because of this phenomenon; health information songs can be function as communications agents that have the potential to affect individual attitudes and promote behavior change.

Typically, popular songs are about the subjects of love, sex, fun, violence.  But, the song-instrument itself, and the power of melody and music in general, are rarely utilized by health stakeholders to enhance their communication’s objectives.  Imagine what would happen if a cool song was created to educate the public on the symptoms of diabetes?  Other songs could be produced to teach skills such as how to read a food label or to promote the benefits of exercise.  What if people enjoyed singing them?

Unique Benefits of Music-based Health Communications Systems

While there are many advantages to increased utilization of music-based health communications, the main benefits to this approach are improvement in the following health communication metrics:

  • Message Consumption (Retention, Understanding and Utilization)
  • Message Broadcast Distribution & Dissemination (Population Segment Reach, Scalability, Campaign Economics, Cost Per Person Impacted)
  •  Message Impact Efficacy  (Ability to Enhance Knowledge, Adjust Attitudes, Change Individual Behavior)

When compared to other forms of health communications, music-based messaging offers consumers a double benefit of increased density and improved comprehension of health information.  There is a particular link between melody and memory that is well known, but not well understood.  It’s like memory magic.  Whether, it’s the ABC song, or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” it generally only takes a few notes for us to “name that tune.”

By adding music melodies to their messaging campaigns, health agencies can increase the affinity for the information they want to disseminate.  The messages become less dependent on audience literacy and become more attractive to the recipients than messages disseminated on paper, billboards or in even the traditional radio or TV PSA’s.  Furthermore, popular melodies can also increase tolerance for repeated airings of health information.

There are many opportunities for agencies and stakeholders to utilize music to deliver health information.  By placing health information content in the song’s introduction, verse structure, chorus and outro adlibs components, songwriters can create simulated melodic health messengers.   Once they are produced these songs can be disseminated through the traditional channels including music CD’s, music videos, workshop presentations, stage performances, DVD‘s, websites presentations, and interactive CDROM programs.

Furthermore music-based messaging is less expensive to produce and distribute than television and radio public service announcements, and more environmentally friendly than print materials.  Another added benefit for music-based health communications is a concept called message recycling.  Most print materials are consumed by only one consumer per piece, and print materials are often discarded immediately before they are consumed.  Rarely is a printed brochure consumed completely as intended by the print piece designer even by the one consumer.  Consider also the number of instances when an individual reads a printed document and in turn shares or repeats the information contained in the piece with another person.  Even billboards, and radio/television public service announcements are rarely shared with others and they rarely prompt conversations on the subject amongst one’s inner circle.  In contrast, if an individual likes a melody of a song, they will want to hear the message contained in the song multiple times and may shared the song others.

Music-based messaging is more effective than other forms of messaging because they can simulate interpersonal communications.  Songs lyrics can illustrate various environments and include simulated self-to-self, parent-to-child, spouse-to-spouse and doctors-to-patient conversations.

Definitive findings in the above comparatives will necessitate additional research study, however in lieu of formal, peer-reviewed research, assertions in this synopsis are offered based on informal empirical data, pilot implementations, basic communication’s principles and common sense reasoning.