Kreps and colleagues provide a detailed history of the field of health communication. Below is an excerpt:
“As literature concerning the role of communication in health care and health promotion began to increase, there was a growing need for academic legitimization for communication scholars studying the role of communication in health. In response to this growing need, communication scholars interested in health care and health promotion banded together in 1972 to form the Therapeutic Communication interest group of the International Communication Association (ICA). The formation of this professional group is one of the most influential moments in the genesis of the modern field of health communication because it provided an academic home for an eclectic group of scholars, communicated to the rest of the communication discipline that health was a legitimate topic for communication research, and encouraged scholars in the discipline to consider health-related applications of their work.
The annual ICA conventions were very important sites for an emerging group of health communication scholars to meet, present their research, and generate new ideas and new directions for this new field of study. At the 1975 ICA convention, held at the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago, another important milestone in the development of this field of study transpired. The members of the Therapeutic Communication Division voted at this conference to change the name of the group to the broader title of “Health Communication,” recognizing the many ways that communication influences health and health care. This was an important change because the new name represented a much larger group of communication scholars than the title therapeutic communication did. The therapeutic communication title was most attractive to interpersonally-oriented communication scholars, while the name health communication appealed broadly to scholars interested in persuasion, mass communication, communication campaigns, and the organization of health care services, as well as those interested in interpersonal communication.
The ICA Health Communication Division not only provided academic legitimization for a growing body of college faculty and graduate students, but the conference programs encouraged other communication scholars to conduct health communication research and submit it for presentation at ICA conferences. The ICA Health Communication Division began publishing the ICA Newsletter in 1973, communicating relevant information about health communication research, education, and outreach opportunities to a growing body of scholars. In 1977 the ICA began publishing the influential Communication Yearbook annual series, which included very important chapters about the emerging field of health communication.
In the first four volumes of the Communication Yearbook annual series each of the divisional interest groups (including the Health Communication Division) was allotted dedicated sections of the book to present research overviews and exemplar studies. In each of the first four volumes, Health Communication Division officers wrote important definitional overview chapters about the nature, purposes, and scope of health communication inquiry (see Cassata, 1978; 1980; Costello, 1977; Costello & Pettegrew, 1979). These overview chapters along with the accompanying research reports provided an excellent showcase for the developing field of health communication. Later issues of Communication Yearbook moved to a revised format of showcasing major review chapters along with accompanying responses from accomplished scholars representing the different ICA Divisions. The major review chapters concerning health communication were instrumental in defining this field of inquiry and the chapter responses helped to frame the major issues in the field for a large audience of scholars (see Kreps, 1987; Reardon, 1987; Pettegrew, 1987 for an example of a series of important health communication chapters in Communication Yearbook 11).
In 1985 the number of communication scholars interested in the field of health communication had grown enough that a groundswell of interested scholars formed the Commission for Health Communication within the Speech Communication Association (SCA; which is now called NCA), the largest of the communication discipline’s professional societies. Many of the members of the ICA Health Communication Division also became members of the SCA Commission on Health Communication and a large body of communication scholars who had limited exposure to health communication because they did not participate in the ICA, now learned more about this field of inquiry. In an uncommon example of cooperation between ICA and SCA, the two groups decided to share the publication of the Health Communication Newsletter, now renamed as Health Communication Issues. Within a few years the Commission for Health Communication had grown so rapidly that it surpassed the size of the ICA Health Communication Division and qualified to become the SCA Health Communication Division. Since 1992 the ICA and the SCA Health Communication Divisons have joined forces to present annual outstanding health communication dissertation and thesis awards to bothe the graduate student candidate and to the student’s graduate advisor, rewarding and encouraging outstanding health communication scholarship.”