The program’s curriculum will include a core of basic classes in communication, collaboration, and leadership; information, interaction, interface, and message design; social influence and dissemination of information about health and risks; the experience of illness from the patient’s point of view; and managing change in health organizations and behaviors. The education provided to students in this program will equip them with the tools they need to design, produce, analyze and evaluate effective policies, protocols, media products, and content distribution channels/networks for individuals, organizations, and agencies charged with improving health and health care outcomes.

The program consists of 10 total credits: 8 didactic courses, six core and two electives, taken two per quarter over four quarters, plus one proseminar composed of lunch-time guest speakers, and one practicum completed as a mentored independent study outside of class. The curriculum is designed so that it may be completed in four quarters of study or over a longer time period.

Core courses: Students are required to complete each of these eight courses.

How Interaction Works: Introduction to human interaction, conversation, discourse processes and message design. This course provides students with a general conceptual framework for thinking about all types of interaction and communication processes and will serve as a foundation for the design and analytic work that students do in subsequent courses.

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The US Healthcare System: Describes, explains and analyzes the structure and function of the US healthcare system, including population health, epidemiology, government and commercial insurance, health professions, delivery systems, regulation, safety and quality, the experience of care, cost and outcomes.

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The Experience of Illness: Introduction to social scientific models of the experience of illness, especially chronic illness. The course analyzes the relationship between medical regimens, chronic illness, and identity, with emphasis on the effects of regimens and illness on body, self, and biography.

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Human-Computer Interaction. This course provides an introduction to the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) and the broader discipline of interaction design. In addition to an overview of HCI and interaction design, the course surveys significant historical developments and current research that promises to be influential in the future. The goals is to introduce students to the challenge and joy of design and provide them with the initial foundation required to become creative competent designers.

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Changing Health Behavior: Covers key principles of persuasion and social influence as applied to management and change of health-related attitudes and behaviors as well as the design of effective messages to promote health.

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Engaging Patients in Healthcare: Reviews history, nature, purpose and outcomes of interventions designed to improve patient engagement in care as well as the quality and quantity of informed consent and shared decision making in varied clinical contexts. Analyzes ethical, clinical, and financial justifications for increasing patient engagement. Reviews approaches to design, analysis and evaluation of decision aids.

Health Information Technology for Communication, Coordination and Integration (Proseminar): Reviews various technologies used to coordinate and integrate health care across time and space (e.g., EHRs, portals, mHealth applications, health information exchanges, clinical decision support). Provides analysis and evaluation of technology as a potential antidote to problems resulting from fragmentation of care. Will be taught as a proseminar during lunch hour across all four quarters, featuring guest speakers drawn from the Northwestern faculty from multiple colleges as well as from alumni and global and national industry leaders.

Practicum: The development and application of relevant theory and research in an action project or internship. Conducted as mentored independent study. Topic selected at start of third quarter. Students enroll for credit in fourth quarter. Practicum is conceived as an opportunity to apply the principles of design, production, analysis and evaluation to a challenging and timely real-world health communication problem.


Students must complete two (2) elective courses. (Because international students must register for a minimum of 3 credits per quarter, they will complete a total of four electives over four quarters.) Elective offerings would vary each year. The following courses are a sample selection of courses that might be offered over a period of several years.

Learning and Health: Survey and exploration of the cognitive basis of learning, literacy and numeracy in healthcare, including discussion of perception, attention, learning, memory, inference and problem solving. Introduces methods for design of materials in light of what is known about cognition.

Distributed Team Leadership. Instruction in leading teams that must rely on information technologies to work together across space and time to achieve common goals. Attention to communication problems that come from using technology to coordinate decision makers having different backgrounds, locations, and objectives.

Social Networks. Theory and research on the dynamic evolution of types of social networks and the role of media in supporting interactions and relationships.

Interactive and Mobile Media. Survey of the development and potential of new media, especially interactive content accessed through multiple (including mobile) devices; examination of successful and unsuccessful application of these technologies in health communication

Community Outreach and Education. This course explores the diverse objectives of health care organizations involved in what is broadly defined as Community Outreach. Topics include education, recruiting new talent, social justice, responding to the needs of at-risk youth, access to opportunities for underserved populations, appealing to potential funders, and establishing a unique relationship with a specific constituency. The final project involves development of a proposal for a new initiative.

Seminar On Assistive Technology.  Covers issues in the design, evaluation, and future of assistive technology. Speakers and assigned readings covered topics such as mobile navigation aids for blind people, communication aids for Deaf people, brain-computer interfaces for individuals with Autism, and digital pen technology for older adults with aphasia.

Communication and Resolution After Patient Harm Events: Review of historical and contemporary approaches to communication with patients and families in the wake of patient harm. Discussion, analysis and evaluation of novel approaches to communication and resolution and their effect on safety and liability outcomes.

Critical Analysis of Food and Drug Marketing: Discussion historical and contemporary examples of false and misleading food and drug advertising and promotion. Examination of regulation of food and drug marketing, conflict of interest in generation of scientific evidence about foods and drugs, and effects on human health.