Stop Using Medical Jargon On Your Healthcare Website — Your Patients Don’t Care
Remember those Charlie Brown episodes where he’s listening to his teacher’s lecture, but all he hears is “wah wah” (a.k.a. unintelligible nonsense)?
The scene, which was a portrayal of the way a child might hear an adult, is referenced frequently in GIFs, television shows, and everyday conversations. What’s more, it may be more applicable to the real world than the writers ever thought.
The “wah wah” sound, which is actually just the sound of a trumpet playing, doesn’t just highlight how poor, bored Charlie doesn’t understand his teacher. It shows that he never even stops to clarify what his teacher is saying.
Whether they’re teacher-student, parent-child, or husband-wife, miscommunications are everywhere. And while they may be frustrating, they’re mostly harmless.
But when the miscommunication comes from a healthcare provider to a patient, the result is not only aggravating but also dangerous.
Medical terminology is a major factor in this confusion. And in the age of the internet, these risky miscommunications can go far beyond the walls of the office.
Whether in blog posts, newsletters, or patient portals, if your communication is chock-full of medical jargon, not only are patients going to immediately tune out — but it can also put their health at risk.
Here’s why you should stop using medical jargon on your healthcare website and what you should do instead.
Too Much Jargon Equals Not Enough Reading
No matter the topic, getting your intended audience to read in the first place can be a challenge. One study found that only 20% of readers finish an online article, and the average visitor reads a mere 25% of the entire article.
Add medical jargon into the mix, and patients and potential patients are going to steer clear of your content. Filling your blog posts with terms like “metastasis” and “lymph node” — which studies have shown are unknown by most of your readers — are going to drive patients far, far away.
Even if readers do attempt to decipher your medical speak, they’re either going to leave your website to do so (and potentially never come back) or just stop reading altogether.
Plus, Americans have a minimal attention span at best. One study puts our ability to pay attention at 8 seconds — meaning your patients aren’t going to get far if they’re bored or confused by words like “sternutate” (which really just means to sneeze).
One possible reason for Americans’ easily-exhausted attention spans is that there’s a lot of content out there — and readers are constantly seeking the next best thing.
When it comes to medical content, you have many competitors, including other healthcare organizations and medical websites. You can bet that everyone else is finding ways to cater to readers’ attention spans, and if you stick fancy terms into your content that readers don’t understand, you’re going to lose the competition.
The Real Dangers Of Health-Related Miscommunication
Communicating with your patients online offers a new way to provide valid and helpful medical information beyond the walls of the office. But if they’re never even reading it, it loses all potential benefits of your patients taking their health and well-being into their own hands.
For instance, a heart health article that uses “angina” instead of “chest pain,” or “atrial fibrillation” without ever defining it, will leave readers with zero takeaways. Unless you count frustration.
Words don’t even need to be very technical to confuse — and endanger — your patients. One seemingly simple term you might use is “chronic,” which medical professionals know to mean persisting or constantly recurring.
However, a common alternative understanding of the word is severe, which is a completely different symptom. This can lead patients to misunderstand when they actually need to seek medical help because they simply don’t know what the word means.
Even if communication is one-on-one, like in a patient portal, there’s also a risk of confusion. If you send test results to a patient electronically, they may completely misinterpret them if they’re full of medical jargon.
For instance, over 30% of patients don’t know what the term “benign” means. So, a result summary of a “benign tumor” could lead a patient to think their results are much more serious than they really are.
Every healthcare provider knows the benefits of communication. It can play a significant role in how patients monitor their own health, follow directions, and even trust their provider.
But let’s keep the medical jargon to the break room — and talk to patients in a way that can help them engage with the content that’s important to them.
Looking to improve the content on your healthcare website? We can help!
Healthcare Web Content: 4 Reasons To Take A More Casual Tone
How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate—especially in healthcare.
Voice and tone are so often overlooked during the content creation process for healthcare web content, but they are key in distinguishing your brand and truly impacting your target audiences.
Maybe that’s why poor health literacy is such a huge issue in this country. Only 12% of US adults have what is considered a proficient level of health literacy, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In some areas of the country, 1 out of 2 people have a basic or below basic ability to comprehend health information, reports a study from University of North Carolina. This means that half of the population in these areas can read an appointment reminder and figure out when their next trip to the doctor is.
But filling out consent forms and insurance paperwork—or even understanding a pamphlet about healthcare services once they’re at the appointment—is tough.
At CareContent, we are all about increasing health literacy. And as a team of content specialists for healthcare, we advocate for patient-focused content to take a more conversational tone. Here are 4 reasons why.
1. A Casual Tone Helps Patients Understand Complex Information Better
When web content is narrated in a way that sounds like someone is talking, it helps patients understand the information better. The same goes for avoiding wonky language and acronyms. Ditto for cutting out long strings of sentences. When you break the information up and make it digestible, it becomes easier to understand.
This is part of our health literacy mission. If we want people to understand their diagnosis, their treatment, and their medical team, we have to talk at a level that they are comfortable with.
We don’t want people to have to read our client’s content with a dictionary next to them. We don’t them to have to ask the doctor, “What does that word even mean?”
For me, this mission is personal.
My son was recently diagnosed with mild autism. Even getting to that diagnosis required a lot of appointments with pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, developmental and occupational therapists, social workers, and a lot of other specialists who work in early childhood development.
One of the common complaints I’ve heard from other moms in this same position is that these specialists talk to parents like they’re talking to each other. Some of them spew out acronyms and terminology like you graduated with their credentials.
This is an issue for two reasons:
- It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Why should I have to stop and ask you to explain what you just explained? If they break the information down well to begin with, this doubling back wouldn’t be needed.
- It creates more anxiety. A lot of these medical jargon-y words seem scarier and more alien than what they actually mean.
Explaining healthcare information to patients is not the time for the medical expert to display their intelligence. We already know you’re smart. When information is presented to patients in a formal, clinical, wonky voice, that creates questions instead of answering them. And that’s a problem.
2. Conversational Healthcare Web Content Is Better For Search
In addition to helping people understand the information, taking a more conversational tone can also help with search results. This is especially true with the rise of voice search using virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, etc.
Today, nearly 1 in 4 people with an Android device speak their search query versus typing it.
Voice searchers don’t say, “pediatric autism specialist Chicago.” Instead, they say, “Where is the nearest pediatric autism specialist?” or “I need an autism specialist for my toddler.”
To ensure that the search engine robots crawl your content and connect it with something a voice searcher might say, your content needs to match how people talk.
3. Healthcare Web Content Needs To Create Empathy
The third reason to take a more conversational tone for healthcare web content is that it creates a more personal connection with people when, as they’re reading the content, they feel as if they are talking to someone—as if they can hear the nurse or doctor’s voice as they’re reading.
This is a great tactic for organizations that are trying to personalize their providers’ voices online. Wording the information the same way they’d explain it to their patients humanizes them.
This humanization goes hand-in-hand with the fact that most people who are looking for healthcare information online are often in need of empathy. They want to know that they are not alone, that their concerns are being heard, and that they can get help.
Taking a more conversational tone goes a long way toward providing that comfort and empathy patients and caregivers need.
4. Voice And Tone Can Set Your Healthcare Web Content Apart
Refining a conversational voice and tone is one of the most underestimated ways to distinguish a brand. Lots of companies seek to distinguish their brands using fonts, colors, and logos. And while these are all elements to consider, voice is often left out.
This might seem like an inappropriate example for a healthcare setting, but, for instance, take the website Thug Kitchen [Warning: If you click this link, don’t be offended]. Thug Kitchen started as a recipe website that has grown into a vegan cooking empire with three bestselling cookbooks.
The recipes are good, but it’s their intrepid voice and tone that made them culinary stars: Their recipes are full of cuss words.
I remember looking up a recipe for homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving one year, and their recipe popped up first in my search. The first line: “Put the f***ing can opener down.” I laughed the whole time as I went through this recipe.
Other companies like MailChimp and BuzzFeed have risen to become leaders in their market because of the way they say things.
These may not be healthcare brands, but those of us creating healthcare web content can borrow this principle. Using a conversational voice and tone makes your content memorable. And that, in turn, makes your organization memorable.
Are you ready for your healthcare web content to have a voice and tone makeover? Contact us to get started.
Healthcare Digital Marketing In 2018: Putting Patients First
The start of a new year is a great time to take a moment and think about what we want to see happen next—not just in our personal lives, but in our professional lives and the industries we work in and for as well.
So, what do I want to see in healthcare digital marketing in 2018?
I really want to see healthcare become hyperfocused on patient and user experience, both online and offline. I want hospitals and medical practices to stop asking, “What do our doctors want—and what’s going to make us look smart?”
The question to ask instead is, “What do the patients want?” That answer is what should guide the next steps that healthcare digital marketing takes. And I think a key part of that answer lies in expanding ways that patients and providers can communicate with one another.
Embracing Patient-Friendly Communication In Healthcare Digital Marketing
I would really love to see healthcare embrace other ways of patient-provider communication.
For instance, I want to be able to email my provider. And when I say email my provider, I don’t mean through a patient portal. Patient portals are another user ID and password I have to memorize or find to do something as basic as emailing a question to my doctor. It’s just cumbersome.
There are plenty of ways to make this possible while still following HIPAA regulations.
I would love to see healthcare figure out a way for patients to connect with providers via email or even online chat. I have toddlers whose favorite toy is my phone. This means I don’t always have access to my phone.
In order to call a provider to schedule an appointment, I first have to find my phone. That can take more time than busy working parents or young professionals have available.
And I want to be able to connect with my provider on any device. So, if I’m sitting at my computer and need to connect with them, I want to be able to easily do that through email or chat. The same goes for my phone or tablet.
Who Benefits From Expanded Patient-Provider Communication?
The benefits of expanding the ways patients and providers can communicate aren’t one-sided in the patients’ favor. If patients could email their providers, this would give providers another way to share information.
We very much live in a digital world, so keeping patients engaged online is key to keeping them engaged offline, too.”
For instance, if multiple people are asking questions via email and providers are starting to see a pattern to those questions, that could mean it’s time to create web content around this topic to send out in an e-newsletter to patients.
This probably happens a lot seasonally—for example, during flu season. This year was a particularly devastating flu season, and I’m sure a lot of people have been calling their providers asking very similar questions.
It would be great if they could send those questions via online chat and the provider could respond with, “Here’s a podcast I just did about this exact topic.”
This keeps the connection between patients and providers going—and it keeps patients engaged with the hospital or practice online.
My hope for healthcare digital marketing in 2018 is that the patient experience takes center stage.
What do you want to see happen in the world of healthcare digital marketing this year? Contact us to see how we can help turn your organization’s resolutions into realities.
When My Diagnosis Was HPV Positive: 5 Ways My Doctor Truly Helped
I will never forget the day I got a call from my OB/GYN, informing me that I was HPV positive. I had a colposcopy, and fortunately, there were no signs of cancer. But my clean bill of cancer health didn’t erase the reality that I had a sexually transmitted infection.
But my OB/GYN was fantastic. She explained what was happening in easy-to-understand terminology, and she helped me take responsibility without implying that I was somehow a failure. Her approach helped me through what could have been the most frightening experience of my life.
However, I learned that some of my friends also have HPV, and that they didn’t have the same experience. Their physicians had not given them nearly as much information. Some felt scared and confused, while others felt like there was nothing to worry about at all.
Although I had told a few friends and family members about my HPV, I never planned to share it publicly. But when I discovered that my somewhat positive experience was rare, I knew it was important to discuss.
Living With HPV: To Share Or Not To Share?
As someone who is dedicated to improving public health, and who is an advocate of sharing narratives to raise awareness, I believed it was best to share my own experience.
Here are 5 things that my OB/GYN told me about my condition—things I would encourage every physician to tell a woman who is HPV positive.
1. You Have Nothing To Be Ashamed Of.
This is one of the most important things you can tell your patients. Shame is what I struggled with the most. I felt tainted, as if I had done something wrong.
Reassuring your patient doesn’t mean letting her off the hook, of course. Encouraging her to use protection empowers her to protect herself.
But reassure her that this does not define her, and remind her that she is not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost everyone who is sexually active gets HPV at some point in their lives.
Basic facts like these had a strangely calming effect—for me. Knowledge was the stabilizer that helped me keep a clear head and think logically about my next steps.
2. Yes, Tests Like Uterine Biopsies Can Be Painful.
The nurses did prepare for me for some “pressure and minor cramping,” but this is one thing I wish they had prepared me for a little more.
It’s understandable to avoid overstating potential pain, so that your patient doesn’t back out of her test. But it also doesn’t help to lie and say there will be no pain—lies can break trust and discourage her from pursuing further treatment, if needed.
Be honest about the pain, but remind her it doesn’t last long. It’s a few quick pinches, and the pain subsides almost immediately.
3. It’s Possible You Have Cancer—But You Probably Don’t.
This is another area in which honesty is critical, for two reasons:
- When a woman hears she has HPV, she might panic, immediately thinking she has cancer.
- She might believe that since HPV doesn’t always cause cancer, she doesn’t need to get tested.
Neither of these mindsets benefits a woman’s mental or physical health.
It’s worth reminding her of the following:
- Yes, HPV can cause cancer. However, the World Health Organization reports that most HPV infections clear up within a few months, and about 90% clear up within two years. It’s a small proportion that can persist and lead to cancer.
- It is extremely important to follow up after an HPV diagnosis to get a cancer screening. According to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), most women with cervical cancer did not get regular Pap smears, or did not follow up after abnormal Pap smear results.
- Cervical cancer generally develops slowly. Researchers believe it can take between 10 and 30 years to appear, the National Cancer Institute notes.
- As NLM notes, cervical dysplasia, the precancerous condition, is 100% treatable.
All of this information is available to patients online, but sharing it with your patient ensures that she receives correct information and can make informed decisions.
4. Surprising “Stuff” Will Come Out Of You For The Next Week.
This might not seem like the most pertinent information to give your patient. However, it’s not something to ignore.
After my colposcopy, my doctor told me that I would notice something similar to coffee grounds in my urine. Had she not prepared me for that, I would have been terrified that something was wrong.
5. You Need To Tell Your Future Partners About It.
This might be the most troubling thing I’ve heard from my friends with HPV. Several of them don’t see the need to share the information since it’s so common, or since there is currently no HPV test recommended for men.
I doubt my friends understand the gravity of failing to tell a partner. Men can pass on HPV to future partners. Personally, I would never want to feel even slightly responsible for another woman getting it without her knowing that she’s taking that risk.
I don’t have a better moral compass than my friends. I attribute my desire to be honest primarily to my doctor and nurses.
They educated me about how easy it would be to pass on HPV without protection, and how my partners could pass it on to their future partners.
From a public health standpoint, that’s obviously a critical piece of information to share. I have no doubt this type of honesty has prevented many infections from occurring nationwide.
For help with web content about HPV or other potentially sensitive subjects, please contact the CareContent team.