Unraveling the Complexities of Public Health Communication in the Age of Misinformation

Nov 8, 2023 | News

The communication of health-related information is a complex process, involving multiple systems, from information creation to dissemination channels and information users. In the age of misinformation and disinformation, it’s crucial to address these complexities for effective public health communication. Misinformation and disinformation pose significant threats to public health, and they tend to thrive during times of uncertainty or fear, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authors of The Need for Systems Approaches for Precision Communications in Public Health, explore this issue in great detail in an article recently published in a special PRI-curated issue of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, entitled Leaving No One Behind: Opportunities for improving future pandemic-related communication. The authors include: Bruce Y. Lee (PRI CTO for CUNY SPH), Danielle Greene (PRI COO for CUNY SPH) ,Sheryl A. Scannell, Christopher McLaughlin (Senior Project Officer for PRI), Marie F. Martinez, Jessie L. Heneghan, Kevin L. Chin, Xia Zheng, Ruobing Li, Laura Lindenfeld, & Sarah M. Bartsch.

Key Findings

The article addresses three key questions:

  1. Why is Communications a Systems Issue? Each component of public health communication is part of a larger complex system. Health and science information itself is intricate, and the way it is communicated varies across different channels and to diverse audiences. Traditional public health communication approaches have often oversimplified the process, using traditional channels like television and newspapers, which are proving less effective in the digital age.
  2. What are Systems Methods and How Can They Be Useful for Communications? Systems mapping and modeling are essential tools to better understand complex systems. Systems maps visually represent components and relationships within a system, while systems models add quantitative representations. An iterative approach allows for continuous refinement, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the system.
  3. How Can Systems Approaches Can Lead to More Proactive Precision Communications for Public Health? Enhanced understanding of system complexities leads to more proactive, precise communications strategies. Just as precision medicine and nutrition aim to account for individual differences, precision communications in public health can improve the effectiveness of messages and strategies.


The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the inadequacies of traditional public health communication approaches. To address the challenges posed by misinformation and disinformation, it’s crucial to embrace systems thinking and develop more proactive and precise communication strategies. By understanding the complexities involved in public health communication, we can create more effective and impactful messaging in an ever-evolving information landscape.

Read the full article at Taylor & Francis Online.