“Give me the plain facts, doc!”
Patients may not say it in so many words, but it’s what they mean when they ask about their conditions, medications, and lifestyle. They want to know the truth – and what they can do about it – in a way they feel comfortable with.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the results when people can’t get accurate information about an important health matter. Too often, they’re left filling in the blanks with guesswork and internet research.
Even with the best of intentions, patients who don’t feel like they fully understand a health issue are more likely to run into complications:
- They may take their medication incorrectly or at the wrong dosage
- They may underestimate or overestimate the severity of a condition
- They might fail to take appropriate steps for a healthy lifestyle
- In extreme cases, they might use alternative treatments in ill-advised ways
Understanding is the first step to patient compliance, and long-term patient compliance is essential for positive health outcomes. Unfortunately, it is not always obvious when misunderstandings are brewing with a patient.
Patients may even feel they have a strong grasp on the matter, only to realize days or weeks later that they aren’t quite sure. The details they went over or the actions they’re supposed to take might not be as clear as they thought.
Many medical practices have taken steps to make life easier for patients by making detailed written records available. Digital records are great because patients can review them any time. But even in those cases, they can still run into bumps along the road.
Picture this: A patient feels symptoms coming on and goes to the medicine cabinet. There inside is the bottle of their medication. There’s plenty of it, and they’ve taken it many times before. But they notice the directions: “Take PRN.” What the heck is PRN?
Medical professionals know well that “PRN” means “as needed” – there was no reason to delay taking an appropriate dose. But instead, the patient might be led down an internet rabbit hole. Simply looking up “PRN” can lead to a journey where all kinds of sources weigh in about the value of their medication.
Of course, you can only advise your patients – you can’t stop them from doing whatever they’re going to do. But there is a way to cut down on misunderstandings and keep them from growing out of control: Plain Language. It’s not just for your medical practice marketing, but all patient communications.
What Is Plain Language in Healthcare?
Plain Language is an approach to sharing complex or technical information with non-specialists. Its purpose is to help ordinary people comprehend complicated issues and take appropriate action with less confusion.
With Plain Language, the reader can understand:
- More quickly
- More completely
- More easily
Plain Language has been used in the federal government for more than 40 years. In that time, thousands of official forms and letters have been updated for easier understanding. In many cases, correspondence now gives context: What a letter means, why someone is getting it, and what action they can take.
Plain Language has also been embraced in many areas of healthcare. Research shows that when people don’t feel confident that they grasp the message of a piece of writing, they might not act on it – whether out of worry or frustration. Applied in the right ways, Plain Language can protect human health.
Getting Started with Plain Language in Your Practice
Plain Language involves simple word choices and straightforward sentences. It is not meant to be remedial, but it can help patients with limited English proficiency or educational background.
The average newspaper is written at a middle school grade level to increase accessibility and uptake of information. In just the same way, medical practice marketing and communication can be made easier for readers without losing any meaning.
Using Plain Language doesn’t necessarily mean writing all your materials over from scratch. Let’s look at some ways you can benefit your patients and get started simply:
1. Begin with Basic Guidelines
There are plenty of credible online resources about Plain Language:
- Everyday Words for Public Health Communication from the CDC
- Federal Plain Language Guidelines from the Plain Language Action and Information Network
- Plain Language and Clear Communication at the National Institutes of Health
These assets can help you make the first pass over your medical practice marketing materials to cut out jargon words. Jargon can often be confusing, even if patients take the time to look it up. Replacing these terms with clear alternatives makes even tough topics simpler.
2. Understand Your Patients’ Needs
Many medical practices can benefit from Plain Language. Community members from under-privileged backgrounds utilize healthcare more easily with Plain Language materials to help them. Plain Language can also help elders whose time, attention, or stamina may be limited.
Knowing your patients well will help you respond to their needs. If you have many patients who speak English as a second language, for example, materials in their mother tongue may be just as valuable as Plain Language items in English.
3. Integrate Plain Language and Design
Word choices you make with Plain Language can be enhanced with the right design. For instance, short paragraphs are easier for most people to read than longer ones – and bulleted lists might be preferable to even the shortest paragraphs.
Design can also boost accessibility. Elders with reduced eyesight can read the text more effectively when contrasting colors are used to help them distinguish and focus on words. A Central Florida marketing agency can help you develop collateral that’s both attractive and useful to patients.
4. Have a Variety of Readers for All Texts in Progress
Most medical practices put out a range of texts running from simple to sophisticated. Everything from blog posts to brochures should be written with clarity. What’s obvious to one reader may go unnoticed by another, so it’s a wise idea to have readers of different backgrounds for each new piece you publish.
A Central Florida Marketing Agency Can Help You Get Through to Your Patients
The most successful medical practices in Central Florida are those that embrace their new role as digital publishers. When you commit to publishing helpful, informative materials on a regular basis, you’re positioned as a trustworthy expert.
The patient-doctor relationship has eroded over the years as both sides say there isn’t enough time for doctors to provide one-on-one attention. Sound medical practice marketing is one way to make up the shortfall and maintain rapport between visits.
At New York Ave, our team has what it takes to write and design marketing materials that cut through the clutter. We help you define your brand voice and then capture it in blogs, email, social media, and more – with campaigns that foster trust and inspire action.
That means growth for your practice and better outcomes for the patients who rely on your insights.
Contact us to learn more or get started.