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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 reveal that many citizens do not have a firm grasp of basic scientific facts and concepts, nor do they understand 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 decision making 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 because 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, consumers need a basic understanding of the research enterprise.

What Does Success Look Like?

  • Continuing to build on and expand the existing Know the Science effort to educate the public about the importance of understanding biomedical research so people can make informed, evidence-based decisions about their health.
  • A successful strategic effort includes qualitative and quantitative evaluation, usability testing, expanded content development (e.g., new topics, to include bias and causation versus correlation), support for scientific spokespeople, and outreach and dissemination.


  • To collaborate with partners within and external to the Federal Government committed to enhancing consumers’ understanding of the science of health and addressing misinformation that persists on the internet and in popular media and advertising.
  • To develop and evaluate easy-to-understand materials in a variety of platforms and for diverse audiences.
  • To promote the use of these materials among the general public via direct outreach and by 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 to the ability to navigate complex health care systems.