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At the heart of almost every health communication campaign is research that helps communities better understand how to encourage their residents to invest in their family's health and wellness. In partnerships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Library of Medicine and communities across the world, ORAU's health communication researchers seek to improve health communication by developing, pilot testing, implementing, and evaluating innovative communication and social marketing campaigns using the latest technologies.

Linking with ORAU experts and researchers within our university consortium, opportunities exist for research collaborations that can determine how to best inform the public and equip health professionals with knowledge of emerging public health challenges. These partnerships foster opportunities for research collaborations in community health settings that support important research needs across academia, industry and government.

Research focus areas

  • Virtual reality/eye-tracking technology to assess communication efficacy
  • Use of new technology for communications
  • Impacts of vaccination schedule changes
  • Development of technology-based learning tools

Peer-reviewed publications and citations

ORAU researchers author a variety of peer-reviewed publications covering diverse topics in health communication, marketing and training. The list below spotlights some of our recent work (ORAU researchers names are in bold):

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    Highlighting health communication and promotion strategies

    ORAU’s strategic approach to understanding and engaging with in-person and digital communities is recently showcased in a number of ways:

    • A social media hashtag campaign for the CDC
    • Capacity building to improve opioid addiction communication strategies
    • Social listening research to identify vaccine hesitancy trends on Twitter

    Listen to the podcast

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    Highlighting COVID-19’s impact on opioid addiction

    ORAU’s Jennifer Reynolds highlights critical ways the COVID-19 pandemic complicates recovery for people with Opioid Use Disorder:

    • Treatment and detox programs may close or accept limited numbers of clients
    • COVID-19 restrictions will limit people’s ability to connect with a support system when they get out of treatment
    • Family, caregivers, and professionals are at increased risk of “compassion fatigue” as resources are stretched thin

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    Reducing addiction stigma in the media

    ORAU and the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues sponsored a workshop to reduce stigma and increase compassion for those suffering from opioid use disorder. During the workshop, journalists were trained to better understand how substance abuse and recovery helps to promote ethical reporting, reduce stigma, and inspire hope. “Person-focused” word choices (e.g., person with opioid use disorder) were also emphasized to promote compassion and reduce reinforcing the stigma of addiction.

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    Improving awareness of breast cancer risk

    Women under the age of 45 account for more than one in 10 new cases of breast cancer. ORAU, in support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a number of communication and marketing campaigns to help improve awareness. The Bring Your Brave social and digital media campaign, Know:BRCA Education Campaign, and evaluation of the Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) pilot program, are helping women better understand the risk factors and how to prevent breast cancer.

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    Perspective: Ending the stigma of addiction through the power of words

    ORAU researchers are helping journalists and other media members understand how the power of words can help reduce the stigma of opioid use disorder, which is caused by underlying, and usually incorrect, beliefs about addiction and recovery.

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    Opioid abuse crisis in Appalachia

    Since 2016, ORAU has traveled to six Appalachian states training over 30 anti-drug coalitions, not-for-profit organizations, local health departments, emergency responders and law enforcement agencies through an Opioid Prevention Social Media Training and Technical Assistance Program. The program trains local organizations to more effectively use social media to communicate with the public about opioid misuse and abuse.

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    Could immersive virtual reality provide a path to increased flu vaccination rates?

    Imagine you are in a restaurant enjoying a quiet dinner with friends when someone sneezes, spreading the influenza virus to the people around him. That’s the beginning of an immersive virtual reality simulation that shows how flu spreads and impacts the health of other people. Researchers at ORAU and the University of Georgia hope such simulations will encourage more people to get a flu vaccine.

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Our Experts

Julie Crumly, Ph.D.

Julie Crumly, Ph.D.

Expertise: Health and education program evaluation, research methods and data analysis, multicultural and social psychology, evaluation of health interventions and programs, and outcome evaluations for continuing medical education

Co-author: “Non-pharmaceutical interventions for pandemic influenza: An assessment of communication, training, and guidance needs of state, tribal, local, and territorial public health officials,” 2018

Certification: Master Certified Health Education Specialist

Jennifer Reynolds

Jennifer Reynolds, M.P.H.

Expertise: Health communication, social marketing, social media, behavioral science research

Reynolds has more than 15 years of experience managing research, health communication, and social marketing projects for local, state, and federal entities and nonprofit agencies


Certification: Certified Health Education Specialist, ThinkTank Certified Facilitator, Certificate of Proficiency in Qualitative Research

Kristin A. Mattson, M.P.H.

Kristin A. Mattson, M.P.H.

Expertise: Health education, communication, and promotion; social media, social marketing, qualitative research, training development and implementation

Mattson is a project manager leading strategic public health communication projects for her clients including federal, state, and local agencies and organizations. Prior to entering the public health field, Mattson earned a B.S. in Micro and Molecular Biology and worked in both education and healthcare.

Publications: Communicating about Opioids in Appalachia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Best Practices

Certification: Master Certified Health Education Specialist, ThinkTank Certified Facilitator, Certificate of Proficiency in Qualitative Research

Betsy Smither

Betsy Smither, M.P.H.

Expertise: Program evaluation and formative research, including designing, conducting, and analyzing projects using mixed-methods data collection. Facilitates interviews and focus groups with a variety of audience segments, including healthcare providers and public health experts; and conducts large-scale surveys to better understand target audiences.


Certification: Certified Health Education Specialist

Contact us

If you have questions about ORAU's Research partnerships, contact 865.576.1717 or .