Multidisciplinary, Interdisciplinary, and Transdisciplinary Approaches to Health Communication: Where Do We Draw the Lines?
There is a classic poem that illustrates what happens when something large is reduced to smaller parts in order to describe it. In the poem, six blind men feel diff erent parts of an elephant to describe what an elephant is like. After feeling the elephant’s broad and sturdy side, one man concludes that the elephant is like a wall. A second, who feels the tusk, concludes the elephant is more like a spear. A third, who feels the squirming trunk declares that the elephant resembles a snake, as a fourth asserts that the elephant appears to be like a tree-this after feeling the elephant’s knee. The fi fth blind man felt an ear and declared the elephant to be like a fan, while the sixth man, feeling the tail, compared the elephant to a rope (Saxe, 1873). Each blind man contributed to understanding about what an elephant is like, but in a reductionist fashion that makes it diffi cult to imagine the whole as a sum of these parts. And so it appears at times in regard to health communication, where the discipline of communication has been involved in various ways for several decades, emerging in public health programs with increased frequency, and aligned with competencies in medical education as well. New technologies and patient education together with many other disciplines have been involved in health communication, so that putting the pieces together into a coherent image and making sense of it is a challenge.