"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.