44 Excellent Resources For Health Communication

Effective health communication is a challenge that doctors face every day. From discussing routine procedures to the more difficult task of giving bad news, it’s particularly difficult for doctors to both keep their patients comfortable, and convey all of the information that the patients need to know.

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of 43 resources that stand above the rest when it comes to helping you become a better communicator. We chose these resources because they offer practical, concrete advice and strategies.

General Breaking Bad News Pharmacists Public Health/Crisis


The following resources cover the basics of communicating with patients. The strategies in these articles are applicable to doctors in any field and at any level of experience. They cover well-known protocols such as the SPIKE protocol and the ABCDEs of bedside manner, as well as more personal advice and tips gleaned from doctors over the years.

  • Bedside Manner for the Modern World: This article explains some of the advancements in bedside manner that all doctors should be paying attention to. It covers things like setting the agenda and what to do when emotions are high.
  • Communication Skills Education for Doctors: An Update : This 50-page guide will cover all of the bases with all forms of healthcare communication, including talking to patients, talking to patients’ relatives, and communicating within your medical team.
  • Good Communication Skills: Benefits for Doctors and Patients: This article is a great resource for learning how to communicate with your patients. It has a handy table that boils the strategies down to their essence.
  • How to Talk to Patients: It doesn’t get much more basic than this article, but it is a good jumping off point. It essentially gives 6 steps for communicating with a patient.
  • How to Talk to Patients: In this video, Dr. Thaddeus Bell talks about what patients like to hear at the end of their visits. For example, patients like when you ask them if there is anything else you can do or something they would like to talk about that you haven’t covered.
  • Improving Doctor/Caregiver Communications: This document is specifically for improving communications between doctors and caregivers, but its principles can be applied more broadly. It includes things like pointing the caregiver (or patient) to more resources.
  • Key Communication Skills and How to Acquire Them : This is a great overview of the communication problems doctors face, how patients benefit from better communication, and more. It provides specific strategies for doctors like tailoring information to what the patient wants to know and maximizing the chance that the paitent will follow instructions.
  • Mind Your Manner : The author goes into detail about making a good first impression on a paitent, from what to wear to what to say first to avoiding tapping your pen or yawning. He continues in this level of detail as he goes through what to do during and at the end of a visit.
  • Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine: The Bedside Manner and Communication Skills: This is part of a full-length published handbook. This section covers bedside manner and communication skills. It gives expliit examples, like how changing a few words in a set of instructions can completely change how the patient feels. The next section is devoted to helping doctors ask the right questions in the right way.
  • Patient-Doctor Communication: The Fundamental Skill of Medical Practice: This great resource breaks its tips into 5 sections: Initial Encounter, Conducting the Interview, Responding to the Patient, Educating the Patient, and Closing the Interview. Each section has its own tables to clearly and concisely illustrate its points.
  • Patient-Physician Communication: Why and How: This article starts with an informative introduction and a section on the purpose of communicating with patients before it jumps into the strategies. The strategies, or “Reminders for the Busy Physician” include assessing what the patient already knows, being empathetic, and watching the patient’s body and face.
  • Tips to Talk to Patients in Terms They’ll Understand: This article has a collection of tips from experts to help residents make sure they are getting through to all of their patients. Tips include avoiding jargon, avoiding unneccesary details, and using the teach-back method.
  • The Pink Book: Formally titled, Making Health Communication Programs Work, the Pink Book is a free, online book published by the National Cancer Institute. It covers every stage of the health communication process from planning a health communication program to measuring the results.
  • Video Library of Clinical Communication Skills: This video library of the University of Texas MD Anderon Cancer Center offers two video series, one on the basic principles of any clinical encounter and the other on managing difficult communication.
  • Your Doctor’s Communication Skills: This article was written for patients so they could assess the effectiveness of their doctors’ communication skills. However, you can use the list to check your own communication skills, from active listening to non-verbal skills.

Breaking Bad News

One of the hardest responsibilities of a doctor is to give bad news to a patient. Some doctors, like ER doctors or oncologists, face this challenge every day, while other doctors face it only a few times each year. Regardless of your specialty, this is a skill that you must have. These resources will help you handle this delicate task in a way that prompts dialogue with your patients and gives them the greatest comfort possible.

  • ABC of Palliative Care: Communication with Patients, Families, and Other Professionals: This is a very well-written, comprehensive resource. It includes a flow chart of how to break bad news (and what to do at each junction depending on the patient’s reaction), bullet point summaries of each section, and more. This resource requires a free registration.
  • Bad News: This blog post starts out with the author sharing his personal story about having to break bad news to an unsuspecting patient. He then outlines his strategy that he’s developed from his experiences, which includes sticking to the facts, giving a clear next step, and not delaying the news.
  • Breaking Bad News : This resource is provided by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists. It goes over the importance of actively managing difficult situations and then presents 17 steps to help you do just that.
  • Breaking Bad News: This is a short blog post, but it boils down the author’s process into 7 easy-to-remember steps. One of the comments also lays out a simple plan he calls the ABCDEs for Breaking Bad News—definitely worth checking out.
  • Breaking Bad News to Cancer Patients and Their Families: This helpful resource is divided into multiple sections, including barriers affecting your communication, procedures to ensure proper communication, and special problems (like being asked by a family member to hide the truth from the patient).
  • Breaking Bad News to Patients – A Challenge for Residents : This is a post from the NYU Internal Medicine Blog. It covers the basics of doctor-patient communication and breaking bad news, and includes the ABCDE protocol that many medical students.
  • Case Teaching Notes for “To Tell the Truth: Delivering Bad News to Patients”: This comes from the Department of Family Medicine at the Ohio State University. It tackles specific questions that many doctors face like “Do patients want to know?” and “Is it ever justified to withhold the truth?” The article also provides a case with step-by-step instructions on how to analyze the case.
  • Communicating With Cancer Patients: When the News Is Bad : This is a video and transcript covering breaking bad news to cancer patients. The moderator is the Group Editorial Director at Medscape Oncology and she interviews Dr. Walter F. Baile, Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Texas and Director of the ICARE Program, a group dedicated to enhancing communication and relationships in the medical field.
  • Delivering Bad News: Dr. Eric Van De Graaf explains and summarizes the SPIKE protocol for delivering bad news.
  • Delivering Bad News: Helping Your Patients Retain Dire Details: This article discusses a study that found that patients remember very little that a doctor says after he/she delivers bad news. The article shares the perspectives of many experts and ends with a summary of 9 ways to help patients retain information, even if they are being delivered bad news.
  • Delivering Bad News-Part 1 Part 2: The Medical College of Wisconsin presents these 2 study cases to prepare medical students or physicians for the task of breaking bad news. It outlines the steps you should take in preparation of the conversation as well as self-reflection points to think about during the process.
  • Giving Bad News to Cancer Patients: Matching Process and Content: This comprehensive resource prepares doctors for breaking news from square one. It starts by asking doctors to recognize their baggage and to find a way to see things from the patient’s perspective before offering concrete advice for the actual breaking of the news. It also has a section on responding to the patient’s emotions as they develop.
  • How to Break Bad News: This blog post outlines a lecture that the late Dr. Judah Folkman gave to a group of medical students. It covers everything from breaking the news while sitting down to how to ask family members for autopsies.
  • How Best to Deliver Bad News to Patients and Family : The UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Diana Padelford Binkley Foundation present this 28-minute video on how to break bad news to both patients and their family members. The speaker is Elly Hann who is a hospice and pallative care worker. She uses a PowerPoint show to illustrate her points and guide her presentation.
  • Role Playing: How to Break Bad News: This article is targetting optometrists, but the advice is valid across specialities. It includes setting the tone and pace of the conversation, inquiring directly about the patient’s concerns, and leaving room for hope.
  • SPIKES—A Six-Step Protocol for Delivering Bad News: Application to the Patient with Cancer: This resource goes over the SPIKE protocol—a 6-step protocol that meets the requirements defined by published research on breaking bad news—and how to apply it to communicating with cancer patients.


Pharmacists face certain challenges that other doctors do not, like having to stand behind a counter, physically separating them from the patients. The following set of resources were written specifically to help pharmacists improve their communication skills and foster better relationships with patients.

Public Health/Crisis

Communicating to the public is always tricky. In times of crisis, people are often irrational and scared. In more calm times, it’s harder to grab people’s attention and impress upon them the importance of new policies without causing a panic. The following resources were designed to help public health officials and departments tackle this sometimes daunting task.

  • Clear Communication: An NIH Health Literacy Initiative: This resource goes over the 4 major factors that affect getting your public health message out: Health Literacy, Plain Language, Clear & Simple, and Cultural Competency.
  • Communication at the Core of Effective Public Health : This American Jounal of Public Health resource goes over the basics of public health communication, including its audience-centered philosophy, ecological perspective, and more.
  • ECDC Health Communication Strategy 2010-2013: This document lays out the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s public health communication strategy. While it includes information specific to this organization, it also provides key insight to public health communication and strategies that are applicable to any organization.
  • Health Communication: This comprehensive guide to improving public health via communication includes attributes of effective health communication (balance, evidence base, timeliness, etc.), issues and trends, opportunities, and more.
  • Health Communication Strategies: This resource talks about the various avenues you should utilize to get your campaign message out, and also goes over some general stategies that work, even on a small budget.
  • Health Literacy as a Public Health Goal : This resource focuses on health literacy, that is, raising the public awareness of health so that people can process more detailed information, like how to deal with a certain epidemic or problem. This resource includes an outcome model for health promotion and a tables that shows the various levels of health literacy.
  • Risk Communication Guide: This is a handbook for public officials to help them get a message out during a crisis. It goes over communication fundamentals (like developing goals and key messages), acknowledging uncertaintly, and more.