Evaluating the state of public knowledge on health and health information in Portugal

June 1, 2010 to May 31, 2013
36 months

This project aims at evaluating the current state of knowledge of the Portuguese general population on a range of health conditions, as well as the state of access to health information, its sources and its interpretation and effects on health-related practices. A by-product of the project will be the elaboration and testing of a methodology for the assessment of the impact of initiatives in the field of health information, to be put to the test through an analysis of current programs, campaigns and other initiatives and of their reception. The approach is expected as well to provide tools for the evaluation of initiatives within the Harvard Medical School-Portugal Program focused on the production and distribution of health information. Although some critical and innovative approaches to health information and communication have been developed in the recent past, knowledge is still limited of how information is received by target publics and appropriated as part of existing configurations of knowledge and, in particular, of experience-based knowledge; how publics draw on, assess, rank and combine information from different sources; how knowledge and health-related practices are transformed through exposure to, and reception and appropriation of, new information – in other words, of what the performative effects of information are. Communication strategies are central to the enactment of health information initiatives, but they depend for their effectiveness on a detailed knowledge of information materials (or “messages”), of target publics, of contextual aspects (social, environmental, economic, cultural, institutional) and of the chains of mediations (material, institutional, social, cultural and cognitive) which allow information to flow and be received and appropriated by these publics. The project will address these questions through: the elaboration of adequate theoretical, conceptual and methodological tools; an investigation of a) the state of knowledge and of access and reception of information related to health among the general population of Portugal; b) the efficacy of health information materials; c) the effectiveness of health information initiatives; d) the chains of information and the mediations associated with specific programs or initiatives. Dissemination activities will be carried out throughout the duration of the project, including a set of recommendations for health institutions, professionals and other entities, based on project results. The materials and cases included address conditions listed by the Portuguese National Health Plan as priorities for health policy. The project will select those conditions which have been the object of specific nation-wide information campaigns or initiatives, namely originating in health authorities, but also originating in or sponsored by patient organizations or professional or scientific associations. Three subpopulations singled out in the call will deserve special attention: teens (aged 10-17), young adults (18-25) and the elderly (60+). The focus of the project is on the forms, contents, flows, mediations and modes of appropriation and use of information on various conditions, their diagnosis and therapies, as they are shaped by specific biological, environmental, social, economic, cultural and institutional determinants. The project draws for its theoretical and conceptual approach on contributions from a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary research areas, including science and health communication studies, social studies of medicine and health, medical anthropology, psychology, and epidemiology and public health. The methodology is based on a configuration of quantitative and qualitative approaches, including a representative survey of the national population; interviews with health communication agents, health professionals and other actors involved in health information, namely patient organizations; focus groups with target publics of information initiatives; and documentary analysis (including analysis of on-line and printed materials on the objectives, strategies, contents, targets and expected outcomes of initiatives). The interdisciplinary composition of the research team and the considerable experience of its members and of the participating institutions in collaborative research on, and active involvement with, science and health communication and education, epidemiological research and collaboration with different actors and stakeholders though a variety of forms of action-research allows the bringing together of the scientific and organizational skills and infrastructure needed for the success of the project. The collaboration with Harvard Medical School and, in particular, with its Global Health and Social Medicine Department will be a major asset for the project, bringing to it a very rich experience on the engagement of health institutions and professionals with publics in a variety of social settings.


Publication of book and scientific papers.

Carlos Barradas
Elisabete da Conceição Pereira Ramos
João Arriscado Nunes (coord)
Joaquim Manuel Pires Valentim
José Júlio Borlido Santos
Manuel João Rodrigues Quartilho
Maria Cristina Sanchez
Maria de Fátima Rodrigues Pereira de Pina
Maria Rui de Vilar Correia
Rita Serra
Tiago Santos Pereira
health, knowledge, information, communication
Funding Entity
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology