Blog in 09 2018.
Doctors and the healthcare industry have unique problems with the way they communicate. Medical terms and words can feel like a foreign language. (Sometimes what’s written literally is, with Latin origins that aren’t generally in use.)
We’ve written about medical language before, and this topic’s been in the news again – doctor’s orders are to write letters that are easier for patients to understand.
To build on what we’ve already shared, here are our observations and tips to help make sure patients don’t feel like they’re in an episode of Casualty.
Patients rely on clear communication
Good communication and interpersonal skills are powerful tools in any first aid kit. Doctors run the risk that their patients won’t understand basic health information. In turn there’s less chance they can make good decisions about their diagnosis and how to look after themselves. It’s too easy for patients to misinterpret things like warnings on prescriptions and medication small print.
They often have to translate medical language into plain English
The once fastest man over 200m & 400m simplified his diagnosis for us, in a way most of us will understand. Who would ordinarily know what a ‘transient ischemic attack’ is?
Don’t hide behind scientific jargon
Hospital or surgery letters shouldn’t need someone with a medical degree to be able to translate what’s been said. So try:
- ditching all the Latin words and phrases – use words that make patients feel you understand them
- being consistent with the terminology you and medical professionals use
- cutting out platitudes like “It was a pleasure to meet you”, and get to your point quickly. (These are often used as crutches to soften giving difficult news.)
- writing more like you speak – imagine a patient sat with you (a classic bedside chat).
Trust me, I’m a writer
Find us @TheWriter, and share your best and worst medical speak.
And you can find our stand at The Global Pharma Marketing Summit in Berlin next month. While we’re there, we’ll be talking about why pharma language doesn’t have to be so complicated.
“I’m not sure if you saw my last email…”
“As per my last communication on Thursday…”
“Matt, any update on this?”
Cue rolling eyes and banging heads against keyboards. We all hate email rhetoric, but it’s tricky to avoid, and it’s something many people get wrong. As Adobe found, when they shared the top 9 email phrases that irritate us.
It’s hard to get a feel for tone when you’re reading off a screen
It’s easy for an email to be misconstrued. We don’t have the luxury of facial expressions or seeing someone’s mannerisms, and can’t always pick up on the way they’re saying it. A message written tongue in cheek, in jest or in haste can unwittingly be flipped on its head and taken the wrong way. And we’re at the mercy of the mood of the reader, too.
Modern inboxes are noisy, crowded, and extremely competitive
The average office worker gets a staggering 121 emails a day.
If you want your email to stand out, be read and be acted on, here’s what you need to do to avoid the pitfalls of email…
1. Remember, it’s not just about you
Think about the person you’re writing to. What do they need to know? How do you want them to feel after reading your email? And what do you want them to do?
Once you know the answer to these three questions, you can play around with the order of know, feel and do depending on what’s most important. If you’re still waiting for a reply, you might want to start with the do. If you’re giving a difficult message, focus on the feel.
2. Make your subject line your hook
Treat it like your headline. Make sure it sums up what your email is about – in a way that’ll make sense to your reader, not to you. Don’t fall into the trap of using things like reference numbers or generic phrases like ‘important information’ as your subject line.
And put the key info into the first two or three words. Anything longer might be cut short in your reader’s email browser.
3. Break things up and keep it snappy
Subheadings are your friend. Hefty blocks of text, particularly in an email, can make people switch off. Chunk up what you’re saying into sections, with a subheading that summarises the main point of that section.
Try to keep your sentences under 25 words, and paragraphs shorter than six lines.
Don’t waffle either. Keep what you’re saying snappy. If someone has to scroll a lot, they’re less likely to keep reading. Once you’ve written your email, go back and see if you can cut about 20% without losing the meaning. Your reader will thank you for it.
4. Don’t just think about what you’re saying – but how you’re saying it
It’s harder in an email to pick up on emotions and convey your intentions. So the tone of what you’re writing is important.
Watch out for overly formal, stuffy phrases – as per, regarding, with all due respect... Imagine someone standing next to you, and write it like you’d say it.
Make any call to actions super clear – you’ll be less likely to have to chase people.
Be direct but polite – remember, people will see right through showy over-politeness, and spot glimpses of passive aggression a mile off.
Your best bet is to keep things simple, and use your brand tone of voice if you have one.
Try it on for size
Test out these ideas in your next email, and tweet us @TheWriter, letting us know how you got on.