Porter Novelli

On June 11 and 12, 2010, a team of Porter Novelli experts shared thoughts on health literacy and social marketing at the 20th Annual Social Marketing in Public Health Conference in Clearwater, Fla. Dr. Barbara DeBuono, Porter Novelli’s chief medical officer; Adam Burns, a senior vice president from the Washington, D.C. team; and Jennifer Nichols, a senior account executive from the Atlanta team presented “Does Your Audience Understand You? Health Literacy in Social Marketing,” which addressed health literacy and Porter Novelli’s health confusion continuum. The team described the importance of addressing these factors in developing behavior change campaigns in health and other sectors.

Health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions1. The data presented from Styles, the agency’s proprietary suite of consumer and lifestyle surveys, revealed that 14 percent of the U.S. population is “highly health confused.” This segment of the population finds most health issues too complex to understand, has difficulty understanding health information and has difficulty finding good answers to their health questions (measured on a five-point scale). The “highly health confused” are more likely to report having fair or poor health, have one or more chronic diseases and depend heavily on physicians for health information. However, because 80 percent of patients forget what their physicians tell them as soon as they leave the doctor’s office, and 50 percent of the information patients remember is recalled incorrectly, it is especially important that effective communication tools be developed for patients and physicians that will lead to improved self management for chronic conditions and adoption of healthy behaviors.

These findings are especially relevant to social marketing, a discipline which can be used to help achieve social change, healthy lifestyles, individual and community behavior change. When creating health messages and materials for social marketing campaigns, health literacy levels should be taken into account so that the target audience understands the messages and embraces the desired behavior change. In addition, messages and tools should be produced for physicians to help them better communicate with patients.

The USF Social Marketing in Public Health Conference attracts social marketing professionals and students from around the world to exchange best practices and innovations and to network with the best in the field. Among the presenters at the conference was Bill Novelli, cofounder of Porter Novelli and a Distinguished Professor of the Practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

1 The U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services: Healthy People 2010