By Toni J. Eberhardt

Here’s the #3 best practice healthcare can borrow from retail to help them connect with consumers.

Align the message with the target audience.

When I entered health care as a marketing and public relations professional, what struck me as the biggest difference between retail and health care was the communication to consumers- specifically, who were the authors, editors and decision makers for what was communicated. Frankly, I was amazed at how large the role of the physicians was and the relative lack of a collaborative approach between subject matter and skill experts.

While physicians are the expert source of clinical information and can also provide firsthand direction around the topics most important and timely to their patients, they often cannot relay the message in “civilian speak” or as the popular book series would likely call it, “Health Care for Dummies.” While patients are far from ignorant about their health and have more information at their fingertips than ever about any medical concern, the clinical language of physicians, especially when they write about their medical specialty, can leave one feeling overwhelmed and ignorant in seconds. (Being married to a physician, I can tell you, it occurs at home, too)!

The simple rule of thumb for healthcare leaders is ensure the person writing the copy aligns as closely as possible with the target audience. If a brochure, Website or article is intended for other physicians, a physician writing and editing the copy is perfect and will be most successful. However, if the material is intended to be patient-facing and engagement and understanding by the reader is paramount, enlist the public relations department.

For example, at Banner Health, we often developed Web copy as well as brochures that were disease or condition-specific to drive awareness and education among patients. One such piece was focused on scoliosis, and it was a two-sided rack card. Because it was intended for parents of children and the goal was to make them aware of the symptoms and treatments, I, as the medical group’s public relations and communications director, spoke with the pediatric orthopedic physician lead. He shared with me what the condition was, its prominence among children, the signs and symptoms, and treatment options; when his information was too clinical, I asked for clarity or paraphrased in everyday terms and asked if I understood correctly. I then drafted the copy and he reviewed for accuracy. The result was a patient-centric rack card that was attractive, informative, quick and easy-to-read and clinically-accurate. Patients build confidence and trust in your organization when they understand what you are telling them.

Toni J. Eberhardt is the founder and president of Prescriptive Communications, LLC. Ms. Eberhardt has nearly 25 years’ experience in marketing strategy and communications, public relations, crisis communications and public affairs in more than five industries with Fortune 500 companies. Ms. Eberhardt has worked in health care for ten years as a marketing and public relations executive with McKesson, Banner Health and FastMed Urgent Care.

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