Healthcare Copy for the Digitally-Sage

How medical companies can keep website copy in best shape

According the the Pew Internet Project’s health-related study, 72% of internet users find medical information online. The most searched-for subjects are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals. When it comes to healthcare copy, a strong, informative website is necessary. However, while medical organizations rarely fail to tout their breakthrough sciences, many fall behind the curve when it comes to the art of web writing.

Healthcare organizations might take a page from WebMD, a digital trove of user-friendly content, dedicated to reader concerns. Institutions and practices, however, aren’t pandering to hypochondriacs panicking over a lump or a rash. They’re speaking to individuals and caregivers with real-deal issues who want serious and knowledgable care. Medical copy falters when it fails to address the personbehind the hypothetical patient—which is the opposite of effective when you’re dealing with the very real (sometimes life-or-death) concerns of individuals.

Healthcare writers must strike a delicate balance between the very personal and highly professional, conveying expertise while cultivating a compassionate voice. This is where copywriting for humans comes in. Here are some do’s, don’ts and guidelines from MarketSmiths’ human copywriting professionals:

Take the empathic route

The guiding principle of medicine—and medical copywriting—should be empathy. Healthcare companies are speaking to people in varied degrees of psychological stress and it’s the writer’s job to set a tone that acknowledges these volatile emotions. Rule #1 is to make sure your copy sounds like it was written by a person, not an institution.

A good rule of thumb is to adopt the first person voice and address the reader in the second, instead of referring to the company and patients in the ultra-removed third person. Another compassion-tactic is to open with a statement that makes the reader feel understood and secure. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center does a good job of this on its individual cancer pages. Per example:

“Being diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumor is life changing. In a flash, you’re faced with questions and concerns — and the stress of the unknown. That’s where we come in. We give you answers, relieve your fears, and help you make the right plan. Our doctors and specialists assess your condition and treat you with the best tools available. Why do we do all this? Simple. We want what you want — the best possible result.”

This formulaic approach is steeped in empathy—it engages the potential patient by jumping straight into his or her shoes, then offers hope through solutions. The writer wraps up with some clever reader-positioning: an encouraging “we want what you want” puts the patient and organization on the same proverbial “team.” For someone dealing with the scariest of illnesses, that extra level of personal support is a deal-maker.

Don’t make readers feel like lab rats

The quickest way to alienate someone searching for medical help is to serve them dry, jargon-packed language. Professionals want to promote their superior scientific knowledge, but a too-technical tone makes readers feel like they’re being talked about, not to. Patient facing copy shouldn’t sound like something out of peer reviewed journal. The goal is to convince readers that you’re not only equipped to handle their concerns, but that they’ll be treated as human beings. Some DOs and DON’Ts:

DO describe medical services, studies, and technologies in simple, laymen’s terms, making sure to spell out any terminology that may be lost on the reader. Throw in key phrases like “individualized care,” “special attention,” or “doctor-patient relationship” that emphasize personal attention.

DON’T use excessive qualifiers and long, run-on sentences that come off as impersonal and/or pompous. Stick to the point and don’t stray too far into the nitty-gritty medical details on top-level pages. Let readers explore or contact you for more information.

“Get me two CCs of stats…stat!”

The medical industry thrives on statistics—but numbers are only persuasive when they’re positively related to a person’s situation. Bragging about the number of patients you’ve seen or procedures you’ve performed doesn’t draw people through the door.

To a person in need of immediate care, for example, this hospital’s boast of “60,000 visits to our Emergency Department every year”means literally nothing. If I’m in excruciating or inexplicable pain, all I want to know is where you are, how I can get there, and that I’ll be swiftly seen and treated. The friendly physicians’ portraits in the sidebar are a plus—at least I can be sure I won’t be greeted by Nurse Ratched.

nurse_ratched

Not all stats fall flat, of course. Patients and their families like statistics related to success rates (the encouraging ones). Latest treatments aren’t necessarily the greatest until you back them up with facts. When offering up data, its best to make sure numbers are in context. Is  a “1 in 4” success rate above average? Why is a 4-year life expectancy encouraging?

Show, don’t tell.

Virtually every medical practitioner boasts the “latest and most advanced treatments.” Blanket statements are fluff. It behooves healthcare copywriters and their clients to be specific. A patient or caregiver doing research wants to know what these treatments areor what options the institution offers that others may not.

For specialty providers, statements like the ones on this asthma center’s home page come off as vague and unconvincing: “Our physicians are experts on the latest and most advanced asthma treatments, some of which are very effective.” What are these advanced treatments? And are only some very effective? Why would I be interested in a mildly effective—or ineffective—treatment? Word choice matters!

This center also purports to “brings together a unique group of specialists and medical services to offer coordinated, comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of lung conditions including asthma and many others.” This opening sentence offers more questions than answers. What makes this group of specialists unique? What is a “coordinated and comprehensive” diagnosis? What other lung conditions are treated (at least name the top few!)?

Optimize and Organize

These are all points to help engage users once they’re at your digital doorstep. Making sure your website is search-engine friendly and navigable will help get and keep them there. According to Pew’s research, 77% of medical research online starts with search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. In a keyword-competitive industry like healthcare, good SEO copy is the only way to make sure your site doesn’t get buried deep in those results pages.

Once users wander to your website, you don’t want them to get lost. Even the most sparking copy won’t make visitors stick around if they can’t find the right content. Each service or department should have a dedicated page or space that is easy to access from the navigation. Linking to other pages within copy also helps direct readers and gives your website an added SEO boost.

Even businesses whose website copy appears to be in great shape will benefit from regular content audits. This ensures that things are running smoothly, both on the surface and under the hood. At MarketSmiths, our seasoned copy practitioners will examine your content to make sure it’s not just compelling but logically laid out and optimized for best search results. We take a holistic approach to copy-care in order to best serve the people that you do!

Janine’s passion for words is rooted in her lifelong study of literature. Following a stint in boutique publishing and a beloved job as a journalist, she discovered an aptitude for marketing that led to SEO work, marketing strategy, and copywriting for (then) startups like FAB.com and major brands like Aeropostale. When Janine found that she could expound on T.S. Eliot, pen a hard-hitting piece on vernal pools, and promote panties with equal éclat, she knew she’d found a calling.

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