Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Challenges for Tailored Messaging in Health Education

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Challenges for Tailored Messaging in Health Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

It is a health education truism that instructional material will be more effective when audience characteristics are taken into account at the outset of program development. One strategy for disseminating relevant health information to individuals is known as "tailored messaging," which accounts for intra- individual information processing needs. This customized approach to health communication is proposed to catch individuals' attention and have a positive effect on cognitive-behavioral responses to health information. Because of the increased attention this communication strategy has received within the recent health education literature, this paper (1) revisits the origins of tailored communication, (2) contrasts tailored versus targeted communication, (3) outlines potential problems and weaknesses of tailoring, (4) discusses challenges associated with implementing and evaluating tailored health interventions, and (5) proposes a path and recommendations for the future of tailored messaging in health education. Future research should consider developing empirical models of tailoring to help clarify pathways for successful application. In addition, health education researchers should come to a consensus regarding whether tailoring represents a cost- effective, feasible alternative to targeted messaging.

BACKGROUND

It is a health education truism that educational material will be more effective when audience characteristics are taken into account. (1) One strategy that has been proposed to best take into consideration pertinent aspects of individuals is referred to as "tailoring" health information based on individual information processing needs. Tailored communication is a combination of information/change strategies intended to reach one specific person, based on characteristics unique to that person, which are related to an outcome of interest and derived from an individual assessment. (2) This approach entails initially acquiring data from individuals on selected variables related to information retrieval, processing, and health behavior change. It then uses the information to convey exclusively germane health messages. As Kreuter and Wray (3(p.S227)) explain, "tailored health communication can customize the source, message, and channel used to facilitate communication for each individual, presumably maximizing the relevance of the communication for each person." This customization is proposed to catch individuals' attention, meet their information needs and positively affect their cognitive-behavioral responses to health information.

Tailored health communication is developed using expert systems, which algorithmically make use of vast message libraries to match messages to individuals based on intra-individual, psychosocial determinants of health behavior. (4,5) Conceptual, theoretical, and/or evidenced based relationships between determinants are used to guide the processing of data gathered from each individual. Tailored health communication efforts have focused on a variety of health issues including nutrition, (6,7,8,9) physical activity (10,11), and smoking cessation. (12,13) Technological applications, such as computers, streamline the development and transmission process used to distribute customized messages. Computer-tailored health communication has modernized the message creation process immensely (14) and has been evaluated favorably in relation to generic health communication. (15)

PURPOSE

While tailored health messaging has received both attention and acclaim, the strategy has not always been endorsed without reservation. (16,17,18) To help resolve pending concerns related to tailoring messages in health education, this paper will: (1) revisit the origins of tailored communication, (2) contrast tailored versus targeted communication, (3) outline potential problems and weaknesses of tailoring, (4) discuss challenges associated with implementing and evaluating tailored health interventions, and (5) propose a path and recommendations for the future of tailoring in health education. …

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