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Information seeking

The Viswanath Lab is interested in examining the ways in which people seek health-related information. Blogs, infomercials, medical encyclopedias, billboards, talk shows, and Twitter accounts are just a few ways in which an individual might come across health information. But does every American have equal access? Research suggests that disparities in health outcomes are exacerbated by a lack of access to health information resources, often affecting populations with low socio-economic status or education levels. The Viswanath Lab is examining this consequence and seeks to narrow the gap between those who have access to information resources and those who do not.

Health literacy

Beyond having access to information resources (see Information seeking), consumers of health-related information should also be able to understand and act upon the information they have received—they should be health literate. The Viswanath Lab is studying how information resources can more effectively be delivered to the consumer. Are health-related websites, for instance, doing their part to include language at a lower reading level for users with lower literacy skills, or is it tangled in jargon and rhetoric? Is the information presented in a way that is user-friendly, or is the website difficult to navigate? In what other ways can resource providers make it easier for consumers to access, comprehend, and use health information?

Knowledge translation

The gap between research and practice in the field of public health is large and compelling. Efforts to close this gap are often called knowledge translation, which refers to exchange between the research and practice communities with the goal of increasing the effect of research evidence on public health. Researchers who conduct rigorous, scientific work may only share their findings in academic journals and at conferences, and it is unclear how these findings translate into real-world applications. At the same time, tremendous knowledge exists within community settings but is not transmitted to academic settings. The Viswanath Lab works to promote knowledge translation in community settings through capacity-building and other initiatives that leverage the knowledge and expertise of both practitioners and researchers.

Health journalism and media advocacy

Health journalism pertains to the reporting of health-related information in the media, be it on television, on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, or on the Internet. The Viswanath Lab investigates what drives the media to report the issues they do. Who sets the agenda, and how is it influenced? What factors determine the amount of coverage a particular topic receives? With the new media boom and the decline of print media, the Viswanath Lab is also asking questions about the relationship between the type of information and the medium it is reported in. How will social media affect the reporting of health-related news and information?

Media advocacy is the method by which individuals and groups attempt to influence health journalism. This may be by directly approaching or petitioning health journalists to report on a particular topic of interest; it could also be a community group using social media to deliver their own health-related message to a public audience, thereby bypassing traditional journalists and taking on the role of information providers themselves.

Risk communication

Research by the Viswanath Lab in risk communication investigates communications made by an individual or an organization to a population regarding potential threats (and consequences of said threats) to a population's health or wellbeing. Risk communication is vital in the event of a natural disaster, a virus outbreak, or a food contamination crisis. Aside from such serious situations, risk communication can also be relevant under less threatening circumstances, when a risk may seem dubious, minor, or even negligible.

Communication inequalities

Broadly, communication inequality refers to disparities found in access to and consumption of information among a population. In the context of health communication, it can be understood as the ability (or lack thereof) of an individual or a population to obtain health-related information and act upon it, as well as their exposure to health-related information as casual consumers. The Viswanath Lab is particularly interested in examining the phenomenon of "digital divide" (communication inequality as it pertains to digital media, including the Internet, cell phone technology, and television).

Community-based participatory research

A series of the Viswanath Lab’s projects utilize the principles of community-based participatory research (CBPR), which emphasizes equitable collaboration among community and research partners, leverages the strengths and capabilities of different participants, and benefits all partners. Key to the CBPR framework is the idea that research topics are of importance to the community and results are expected to support the creation of social change in the community. The Viswanath Lab uses CBPR processes in an effort to support the development of community-driven solutions and the creation of sustainable change.

Updated on April 25, 2013
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