Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: “Talk Like a Human” and Other Communication Tips from PRSA Health Academy

“Talk Like a Human” and Other Communication Tips from PRSA Health Academy

Managing Editor

"The health care industry has the worst customer service in the world." This statement, made by marketing and sales strategist David Meerman Scott during a keynote presentation at the 2014 Public Relations Society of American (PRSA) Health Academy had many attendees nodding along. Because you see, there are actually some people who would rather call their cable company's customer service line than try to get in touch with their doctor. Scott talked about the frustrating experience many patients have with scheduling an appointment (only during certain hours, and "no, you can't speak with the doctor").

And then he discussed gobbledygook. Gobbledygook is that jargon-filled language that is written mostly with the writer in mind and with little thought given to the patient who must wade through the words. By way of example, Scott presents a portion of a "mission statement":

"We have assembled surgical and clinical expertise second to none, have a state-of-the-art trauma center, developed sophisticated minimally invasive techniques, and called on innovative training and technology to ensure the highest level of patient safety and quality of care…"

Wait. What? As a reader, I'm not impressed and easily bogged down by the list of fancy SAT words. As a patient, I still don't know anything aboutwhowill be providing my care.

No one would argue that communicating health information is an easy task. It most certainly isn't. The terms are technical, the time is limited, and the importance of the matter is great. But we have to do better. Scott noted that patients forget 50 percent of what the doctor tells them. Fifty percent is a failing grade, but whose failure is it? When your reader or listener does not understand the information you are trying to convey, the failure is yours as the communicator.

According to the most up-to-date numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 35 percent, or more than 77 million American adults, have only basic or below-basic health literacy.

Although it is challenging, it is not impossible to successfully communicate health information. Scott offers some tips that can help drive successful communications:

  • Be human. There's no need to try to impress patients or potential patients with fancy words. They don't care how well your sentence is written (and yes, as an editor, it pains me to admit this). They want to know you will take care of them. You should use real people and real language. In short, Scott says, "talk like a human."
  • Free your content. Don't make it hard for people to find information on your website. Don't make them fill out a form collecting personal information first. Don't try to sell to them. Clearly provide the information they will need to make a decision about whether to purchase your service.
  • Engage with your audience where they are. And where are they? Online. If you're struggling to get your executives to engage in social media marketing, Scott recommends asking them the last time any of them responded to a direct mail piece. The number is likely to be small. His second recommendation is to eliminate the phrase "social media." Use real-time media instead, because that's what it is--communication in real time.

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