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Communications Strategies and Tools To Enhance Scientific Literacy and Understanding of Clinical Research

Introduction and Explanation of Need

Surveys conducted in the United States and Europe reveal that many citizens do not have a firm grasp of basic scientific facts and concepts, nor do they have an understanding of the scientific process. Without an understanding of the science of health, many consumers will continue to value anecdotes over evidence, believe excessive claims made by supplement manufacturers or TV doctors touting the latest “miracle cure,” and potentially make unwise and unsafe decisions about their health. Those who do possess basic knowledge of the science of health have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information about scientific research needed to make appropriate decisions about their health. Given the current health policy and research emphasis on shared decisionmaking with patients, enhanced patient understanding of the science of health is also a system-level priority. Health care professionals will bear a growing onus to explain and engage in dialogue with patients about treatment options. Promoting understanding of the science of health among a broad consumer base may ultimately make those discussions and decisions easier.

There is also a particular need for an improved understanding of the science of health for those who use complementary and integrative health approaches. Because many of these approaches are readily available in the marketplace, and so many individuals choose self-care options for their health, NCCIH sits at the crossroads between research and real world consumer use. Further, to enhance the value and impact of NCCIH’s efforts in disseminating information, a basic understanding of the research enterprise by consumers is needed.

What Does Success Look Like?

Planning and implementing a collaborative effort to educate the public about the importance of understanding biomedical research so they may make informed, evidence-based decisions about their health. A successful strategic effort would include partner identification and development, needs assessment, content development (e.g., potential topics include absolute risk, levels of evidence, causation versus correlation, randomization in trials), qualitative and quantitative evaluation, support for scientific spokespeople, and outreach and dissemination.


  • To establish a collaboration of partners within and external to the Federal Government committed to enhancing consumers’ understanding of the science of health.
  • To develop and evaluate easy-to-understand materials in a variety of platforms.
  • To promote the use of materials among the general public via direct outreach and targeting influential stakeholders.

Areas of Low Programmatic Priority

  • Development of content with the specific goal of improving clinical trial recruitment.
  • Dissemination of materials and content at various reading levels for people with low literacy skills.
  • Development of communications strategies pertaining to the understanding of medical brochures, physician instructions, and consent forms, and the ability to navigate complex health care systems.

Top Scientific Priorities