How To: Reduce medical jargon & improve your marketing message

I don’t know anyone in health care marketing and public relations who isn’t occasionally guilty of using too much medical terminology when creating marketing messages. You know … the shorthand and technical talk, health care jargon, slang or hospital lingo. We’re the experts, sure, but our audience isn’t.

Truth is, I know you know that, but it still happens. Health literacy is a hot topic right now and it should be at top-of-mind when you’re creating your marketing campaigns. Consider the following as a friendly reminder for the benefit of your hospital, company and/or patients.

Use simple terms

Using complex words such as too much medical terminology (complex, ambiguous or conflicting) can cause uncertainty. Nobody likes feeling uncertain. In fact, uncertainty is often what motivates us to look for more information. Uncertainty is a particular issue for patients who are chronically ill and/or have family members who are chronically ill. In addition, too much information or too little information can also bring on uncertainty.

The big idea here is to write and speak in plain language. Physicians and health care providers know a lot about medicine, but consumers don’t. Communicators and health care marketers need to fit words to the audience. Making things simple and easy to understand is never an issue if it communicates clearly.

We know your hospital has “The only 16 slice CT scanner in the area.” Or the list of cancer services include “peripheral blood stem cell transplantation,” “radiofrequency ablation” or even “renal cell carcinon” treatment. We get it, but your patients don’t. They don’t care or even understand what that means to them. Put the info in simple terms and create messaging that relates to them.

Talk with your heart and speak with compassion

When it comes to choosing hospitals and health care providers, consumers are thinking more and more with their hearts. Regardless of the research and statistics, the industry citations and even the insurance coverage, people consistently make life-and-death decisions based on the emotional connections they form with caregivers. As I noted above, your patients don’t want to hear only about equipment and research, they also want to know how it affects them in a personal way.

Kentucky’s Saint Joseph Health System Cancer Center’s “Survivors” campaign is an example of how one health care provider got the message right. The Tombras Group created a signature TV spot that is visceral and pulls on your heart strings, because it features real survivors and real stories. It’s authentic, genuine and focused on patients, not providers.

Use social media to lead patients

Social media really offers an opportunity for hospitals and health systems. Instead of having patients be frustrated and overwhelmed after seeking information on the Internet, we can use social media to establish a guide for patients and their families—a guide that contains information that is provided by your hospital or health system to assure reliability.

Use your physicians and medical experts to explain complex information in the language your patients understand. You can offer interactive question and answer sessions, interviews or webinars that can be recorded and accessed through your hospital’s website or social media pages.

Sherman Health in Elgin, Illinois, manages several blogs for its patients and community in four main areas: general system news, new hospital and health photography, heart and cardiovascular health and patient testimonials. Here, Dr. Malinski, guest blogs for “Ask the cardiologist,” and helps readers understand common health-related topics.

Empower your patients

More patients are starting to take control over their health, but doctors say they are worried about the quality of information patients are finding online. Dr. Richard Bedlack, a neurology professor at Duke University considers it this way. “Just because a have the tools to work on your sports car doesn’t mean you’re ready to do it,” he says. He explains “Patient 2.0” in this article from Time Magazine here. I say, it’s our jobs as marketers to develop social media sites, public forums and other sharing sites as a place for information our patients and community can trust.

Primary Children’s Medical Center next to the University of Utah, developed a video game to help and empower young cancer patients. When a University of Utah professor, Grzegorz Bulaj, visited an 8-year-old patient, he realized the spirometer he saw in the boy’s room could be turned into a game to encourage healing. See how a university’s medicine and entertainment arts and engineering departments worked together so young patients could have fun while living with cancer.

So, think about how your hospital’s communication strategies and marketing messages are really translated. Could you provide more opportunities to help patients and their families achieve greater understanding and acceptance and diminish the fear and frustration of uncertainty? What communications campaigns have worked for you?

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