Healthcare Marketing: Tips for Effective Health Literate Communication

Healthcare Marketing: Tips for Effective Health Literate Communication

Want Happier Patients and a Healthier Bottom Line?

Try these 6 tips for clearer communication.

Laughing (and groaning) at horribly complicated health-related TV commercials is one of my favorite pastimes. You know the ones …

EARNEST DOCTOR IN LAB COAT: Our multidisciplinary clinical oncology committee considers the optimal combination of treatment protocols to maximize efficacy of available therapies and generate positive outcomes while guiding each patient through the continuum of care.

What’s up, (TV) doc? You look smart and you sound smart, but I have no idea what you just said.

Why don’t they use words regular people can understand? Maybe something like, “We get our smartest people together. We talk about the best ways to treat each patient’s cancer. Then, we help them decide what to do and how to do it.”

That, I understand.

Cancer is scary. So are diabetes, heart problems, depression and all other serious health challenges. Slinging a multisyllabic mess of med-speak at the masses isn’t going to put them at ease. If you want them to choose you instead of the guys down the street, show them you know how to use words they can understand.

And it’s not just for selling services. Health literate communication, the ironically complicated term for it, is good for lots of things.

Population health, for example.

Want to help people with diabetes being discharged from your hospital do a better job of staying healthy so you don’t have to readmit them again in two weeks? Of course you do. So, don’t send them home with a flier telling them to (not making this one up, by the way),  “Achieve ≥150 min/week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (50%-70% max heart rate), spread over ≥3 days/week with no more than 2 consecutive days without exercise.”

That looks like math, sounds like work, and makes people feel stupid.

Instead, suggest something like: “Get in the habit of doing fun and active things that get your heart pumping faster than usual. Take a walk or a swim. Try a yoga DVD. Plant some flowers. Or do something else active that you enjoy. Start small if you need to. Ten or 15 minutes at a time is great at first. Then, work your way up to 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week. Try to never go more than 2 days without doing something active.”

That makes sense, doesn’t sound horrible, and they now know exactly what to do.

And, they might actually do it.

If you’re ready to stop stupefying and start simplifying, apply these rules to everything you write or say:

  1. Organize information so the most important points come first
  2. Break complex information into understandable chunks
  3. Use bullet points when needed (like now, for example)
  4. Use the simplest language you can
  5. Define technical terms if you have to use them
  6. Be direct and concise

You should also download and read the “Quick Guide to Health Literacy,” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s full of great ideas and it’s free at

FAST TALKING ANNOUNCER: Health literate communication is indicated for conveying complicated medical information to general audiences. Use only as directed. Do not operate heavy machinery until you know how health literate communication affects you. Side effects may include happier patients and a healthier bottom line.

Think your communication could be more health literate? Contact Wax Custom Communications for a free evaluation. Call 305-350-5700 or visit today.

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