America's state health departments and the enhancement of health communication through podcasting

Jennifer Richards, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Perhaps it was foreshadowing the influence emerging technologies would have on health when the term "podcast" beat out "bird flu" for the 2005 word of the year, an honor given by The New Oxford American Dictionary. From medical school courses to medical journal summaries, podcasting has found a niche in the health field and with studies showing a high proportion of people using the Internet to seek health information, it is imperative that the online information be accurate and easily accessible. With the responsibility of health departments to reach out to their respective communities with effective health communication strategies, this study assessed the proportion of 50 states' and the District of Columbia's health departments utilizing podcasting as a tool for health communication. Additionally, to assess any trends, the prevalence of podcasting was compared to select state demographic characteristics (age, sex, and median income), the organization of the health department (freestanding or super-agency), and the respective United Health Foundation 2007 health ranking. Prevalence data were collected from each state health department's website to find evidence of podcasting to any extent. If a podcast was present, characteristics including creator, release frequency, and transcript were further assessed. The study found that 51% (26/51) of all health departments were utilizing podcasts in some capacity and almost 20% (5/26) of these had created their own podcasts. The most common use of podcasting was to link to outside podcast resources, most notably, the Centers for Disease Control's podcast series. No significant associations were found between the state-specific variables and the podcasting outcomes; however, higher percentages of young adults in some states suggest potential podcasting opportunities for targeting these known podcast users with age-specific health messages. Another recommendation is a future assessment of local health departments' use of podcasting as their smaller, more defined target audiences may be a more efficient use of podcasting as a health communication tool. Additionally, there is a need for evaluations of podcasts' overall effectiveness as a health communication tool to (1) reach a target audience; and (2) convey a specific health message. In conclusion, the findings from this project illuminate the extent of podcast influence in states' and the District of Columbia's health departments as a health communication tool; however evaluations of effectiveness are imperative for future studies.

Subject Area

Public health|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Richards, Jennifer, "America's state health departments and the enhancement of health communication through podcasting" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1457532.