Help, I Have a Blister: 4 Tips for Better Medical Copywriting

Help I have a blister

I think it’s safe to say that any copywriter who has ever received a paycheck has thought about breaking into Medical Communications. It’s a big industry with big rewards, and a lot is always at stake. As a result, words tend to be far more important—and far more restricted—than in any other type of copy.

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get into medical copywriting, here are four things I’ve learned writing for doctors, clinics, and pharma companies.

1. Less is more, and HIPAA-compliance is everything

The pictured hydrocolloid bandages are sold by a pharmaceuticals startup called Help, which has pulled off something most pharma companies can only dream of—great, human writing. Their over-the-counter product packaging is simple, disarming, and brilliant. While most pharma copy is a mouthful, Help manages to be succinct and engaging—all while remaining totally HIPAA-compliant.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the vast majority of Medical Communications out there today. Out of habit, many medical writers use the same complex language researchers and physicians do, mainly because most of their readers are researchers and physicians. It’s a vicious cycle that can and should be interrupted.

2. If you aren’t sure, ask Google Scholar

Most medical writers aren’t Ryan Woodrow. They most likely didn’t follow the same traditional, storybook career path he did. In fact, most medical writers—even those who have Masters or PhDs—know far less than their physician clients about their writing topic.

Getting your mind around a complex medical device with ten pieces of marketing collateral, double-checked references, and convoluted scientific jargon is a lot harder than writing the product description for a new slimming tea. Never assume you know something for certain. When in doubt, look it up.

3. Get specific when it comes to references

Proper referencing is your second worst nightmare next to HIPAA-compliance. Never assume that you already know how a client wants to reference studies. Most times the AMA style guide will be fine, but it’s not a sure bet. Some clients have their own quirks, preferences, and internal styles. You’ll save a lot of time and a big headache if you ask about citation style from the get-go.

4. A medical background: not totally necessary, definitely helpful

You could be the best copywriter in the world. But without the proper industry experience, you may end up delivering unusable copy to Medical Communications clients.

That’s not to say that you can’t make it as a medical writer. Take Eddie Stephens. He doesn’t have a background in dentistry, but he’s arguably the best-known dental copywriter in the country. However, Eddie also had 25 years of experience as a professional writer before he started writing for dentists. It took him a long time to get comfortable enough to tackle medical writing without the foundational knowledge in place.

Image courtesy of: http://www.helpineedhelp.com/content/images/bli_sm.jpg

Once premed, Han got as far as the MCATs before he realized he had wanted to be a writer all along. Now he uses his scientific background to distill impossibly dense jargon into simple copy that sounds like it was written by humans. A Queens native, Han buys too many Steam games and doesn’t go to Planet Fitness with his girlfriend nearly as much as he should.

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