» Connecting the Power of Writing with the Practice of Medicine

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4 Research Tips for Your Next Medical Story


As a medical communicator, I’ve written a number of articles that required fair amounts of research. Luckily, I love the research aspect of my job and enjoy learning with each piece.

But what if the research doesn’t come easily? What if your job is to turn a verbose research paper or lengthy Powerpoint into something that a non-clinical audience would want to read and can easily understand? Here are a few tips from our clients to keep in mind:

Write interview questions as you research. If there’s something you don’t understand in the research, ask your interviewee to explain it. Sometimes clinicians believe a Powerpoint or research paper will tell the story on its own. If you’re facing resistance to an interview, let your expert know that you’re writing for both a clinical and a general audience. A brief phone interview, or answers to some questions over email, will greatly improve your story. UC Health has posted a detailed, but easily understood story on curing pancreatitis where the writer paraphrased a doctor’s explanation of a surgery.

Pretend you know nothing. Be sure to explain medical terms and procedures clearly and succinctly, so a broad audience will understand. The pericarditis page at Aurora Health Care’s website delves into pericarditis in a way that’s accessible to everyone.

Spell out and explain acronyms. Instead of using a medical acronym like CLABSI, say that hospital patients may suffer from infections if they have a central line that’s used to administer medication, nutrients or blood products.

Start with a story. Readers want to hear about how the research might affect them. For example, the nuts and bolts of research into the causes of infections that afflict newborns can be rather dry. But the lead in this story focuses on the human element in the research, drawing readers in to an article in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Research Horizons.

Posted by Sarah Hawkins

How to speak to your elderly patients


Good writers keep the target audience in mind. But the default persona for a typical healthcare consumer tends to be a 36-year-old mother-of-two. In reality, the person seeking information for healthcare decisions is probably much older.

Older adults — those 65 and over — make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they represent 40 percent of hospital admissions. Plus, baby boomers turn 65 at the rate of 8,000 per day.

Who are all these people, and how can we talk to them effectively?

No such thing as a typical 70-year-old

Seventy-year-olds are all alike in the same way that 30-year-olds are all alike — only in age. Education, interests, ethnicity, priorities and heath status are as diverse among elders as youngsters.

What’s good for the senior is good for the junior

While we steer away from a senior stereotype (don’t be ageist!), it’s good to know that some cognitive abilities and thinking processes do tend to decline as people age.

Older adults may:

  • Process information at a slower pace
  • Have less working memory to hold onto several pieces of information at the same time
  • Experience difficulty in reading between the lines and drawing conclusions

These declines happen at a different pace for each person — might be at 65 for one person, not until 85 for someone else.

Here’s the great news

The techniques you use to make your content useful for older adults make it easier for everyone. Clear, concise, concrete, well organized, easy to scan, conversational tone, familiar words — everything that makes your web page, blog post or brochure easy to use for the average reader works for the older adult.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid toolkit gives you more points to consider when preparing material for older adults.

Now go picture that elderly reader in your mind as you write. And remember, that will be you someday.

Posted by Karla Webb

How to write the best hospital email subject line EVER!


Reading my junk email is my favorite hobby. That’s because there are so many examples of strong headline writing.

Take a look at these:

Open me, I’m kind of a big deal (Orbitz)

24 hours. 2 sales. Ready, go! (West Elm)

Health and Beauty Deals to Combat the Cruel Effects of Time (Groupon)

Why aren’t more hospital marketers writing subject lines like this?

Sure, we know you can’t offer patients a 20 percent off deal to Cancun (I’m looking at you, American Airlines), but you can offer patients information they need to know about. However, they aren’t going to know about it, unless they open your email. They’ll open your email if they like your subject line.

Remember, you’re not just competing against other promotional emails. You’re competing with a patient’s personal emails, social media notifications and oh, yeah — work emails, too.

But what happens if you’re working with a conservative C-suite that doesn’t enjoy a little playfulness? Here’s a trick: Consider doing some A/B testing. That means half of your audience would get an email with one subject line (fun one); the other half would get the email with the other subject line (standard one). If anybody from your C-suite questions you about the email, you have the data to prove which email subject line did the best.

We have a feeling it will be the fun one.

Posted by Jessica Levco

4 Tips for Hospital Video Production Success


Video storytelling is all the rage these days. Here are four tips to help production go smoothly.

  1. Write a brief outline for your video. Have the key players involved (the fewer, the better) approve the outline before filming starts. This way you’ll have buy-in for your project. The outline will also be your guide, and helps your actors know what’s expected.
  1. Always, always scout locations. Even if you’ve been there before, you should visit locations again to check it with your eyes and ears. Look for natural light. Listen for any sounds that may be out of place in your story. This includes doors opening and closing, cars, planes, or ringing phones. The hum of heating or air conditioning may be too loud in certain areas. And be creative with your locations. Steer clear of offices and conference rooms.
  1. There’s no such thing as too much b-roll. B-roll footage is what you cut to while your subjects tell a story. For example, in a hand hygiene video, b-roll might be an employee washing her hands and a hand hygiene sign. While you’re scouting, look for places where you can film b-roll that will match the content of your video. This MedStar Health promo does a great job of showing the story with b-roll.
  1. You have many ways to show and tell stories. Instead of using only talking heads, how can you show stories? Some opt for photo slideshows like Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s “Pre-Olympic Snow Skier Recovers from Injury Like a Champion.” For this popular, low-budget YouTube “Tell Me a Story” series, Cincinnati Children’s staff records interviews and pairs stories with images.


Posted by Sarah Hawkins

Five Examples of Delightful Hospital Wellness Campaigns

Wellness Words

Wellness marketing is more than just telling patients to eat healthy and get 30 minutes of activity each day.

That’s because you can’t expect someone to achieve “wellness” in a day. If you’re asking someone to commit to being more healthful, you should commit to making sure your health and wellness advertising is in it for the long run, too.

Here are a few organizations that are doing just that:

Show your sporty side

Indiana University Health teamed up with the Indianapolis Colts to create the “Healthy Horseshoe Team.” Throughout the football season, participants were given weekly fitness, nutrition and health challenges. In addition, physicians wrote articles to share health and wellness tips.

Join the club

What we liked about Nebraska Medical Center’s health and wellness club is that it offers members the opportunity to do exercise activities (such as Tai Chi) and be social (bowling and book clubs). This free club is open to people older than 50. There are opportunities for members to go to medical seminars, health fairs and get blood pressure check-ups. In addition, Nebraska Medical Center publishes a quarterly health-related magazine, along with several blog topics dedicated to wellness.

Weekly health videos

“Project Health” at Penn State Hershey Medical Center is filled with weekly informational videos to keep families safe and healthy. Here’s a sampling of topics: tips for international travel, advice for controlling sodium intake and how to protect your children from HPV. See more here.

Offering a money-saving wellness program

What we loved most about Aurora Health Care’s “Total Health” program for businesses is that its homepage immediately addressed this question to potential business owners: “What’s the ROI?” Aurora Health Care proved the financial value of the program to business leaders within the first sentence. See the answer here.

A healthy lunch for kids

Each month, WellSpan Health teams up with local schools to introduce kids to a new fruit or vegetable. Not only do the kids get to taste-test the new food item on the lunch menu, but WellSpan also provides teachers activity sheets, posters, videos and fact sheets about the featured treat. Yum!

Posted by Jessica Levco

Three Steps to Healthcare Infographic Success


Before I came to WriterGirl, I was the editor of Ragan’s healthcare website. Each day, hospital marketers sent me infographics to run on our site. Some worked, but a lot didn’t.

That’s because a lot of them didn’t follow these three simple rules when planning their infographics. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  1. Before you come up with a list of numbers and stats, think first about the story you want to tell. Does it have a theme? Can someone look at the infographic quickly and tell you in a few words what the infographic is about? Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it, too.
  1. Think about an image that would match your story/theme. If it’s not eye-catching, you’re not going to pull people in to “read” the numbers that you’re sharing. It’s not an infographic if it’s a circle with a number on it.
  1. Copy somebody else! If you have examples of infographics you like, that will help the writer and graphic designer get an idea of what you’re looking for. Here are a few infographics that might spark some ideas. (We got the one you see above from Social Media Examiner.)
Posted by Jessica Levco

Five Ways to Find More Freelance Work This Winter


When you worked a 9-5 healthcare marketing job, you were always given work.

But if you’ve branched out on your own, you’ve got to start asking for it.

And sometimes, that can be tough. If your workload feels as dry as your skin on a sub-zero winter day, here are a few things you can do to warm it up this winter:

  1. Make sure you have an awesome LinkedIn profile. It might be time for you to spruce up your page. A few things to keep in mind: make sure your headshot is professional, ask for recommendations, use keywords in your profile and join some writing and healthcare marketing related groups. Pro tip: Don’t forget to follow us!
  2. Attend hospital marketing and content conferences. When everybody is listening to a session, don’t be afraid to explore the conference trade show and talk to vendors. You’ll have the whole room to yourself to make connections. You never know where a conversation could lead.
  3. Go back to school. Have you joined your university’s alumni association? What makes going to an alumni event so fun is that every event is disguised as networking — wine tastings, beer pairings and watching basketball games — you won’t feel the pressure to “network” because you’ll be having fun. Plus, “What’d you major in?” is a totally appropriate way to start a conversation with this crowd.
  4. Tell it to the universe. Our CEO, Christy Pretzinger, is a big proponent in daily meditation (and so are a lot of other Fortune 500 CEOs). By meditating, you’ll help put your energy on your goals. Check out Headspace if you’re looking to get started.
  5. Take the day off. Don’t just sit at your computer all day and wait for the work to come in. Here’s a game to play: Take the day off. Leave your house. Do whatever you want (movies, yoga, bike riding, shopping), but the trick is this: You have to tell at least one stranger that you meet that you’re a freelance writer. See what happens.


Posted by Jessica Levco

Case study: How IU Health makes ‘ordinary’ patient stories exceptional


african senior patient with female nurse

When it comes to success stories, heart-wrenching circumstances, advanced technology and life-saving drama certainly make for a compelling read. What healthcare marketer wouldn’t jump at the chance to share their organization’s own version of an episode of “House”?

And rightly so — those stories are juicy. But when it comes to building trust and reputation over the long run, Indiana University Health has found the sweet spot for telling the stories of everyday people dealing with common health conditions.

Make no mistake; IU Health — Indiana’s largest hospital system with numerous nationally recognized programs — doesn’t pass up the opportunity to share dramatic stories, too. Visit their website and you’ll find a smattering of stories from patients who faced complex medical issues and chose IU Health for access to innovative treatments and advanced procedures.

But you’ll also find a heavy dose of regular people dealing with health conditions — cancer, heart attack, joint replacement and pregnancy — that hit close to home to a wide audience.

People dealing with health conditions — even common ones — have questions about treatment and care. IU Health understands the power of letting their satisfied patients do the talking. And when it’s information people are looking for, that “ordinary” story becomes a compelling one.

WriterGirl is offering a new Patient Story Package. We’ll work together with your service line leaders to tell the best patient stories. Contact us to learn more. 

Posted by Janice Crago

What Every Hospital Marketer Can Learn From Mashable


Forbes, Mashable and Microsoft are among the top ten companies with the most influential content on LinkedIn.

No healthcare global brands make the list. What can we learn from the leaders in content marketing about creating content that influences?

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “…a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Content marketing isn’t just about your webpages. It’s about infographics, podcasts and videos.

Here’s what healthcare marketers can learn from these three powerhouses of content marketing:

Hire writers with journalism skills

Microsoft understands that no matter how good a storyteller someone may be, he or she also needs to have journalism skills to be a good content marketer. Building a story around the who, what, when, where why and how is crucial to making content interesting, influential and relevant.

The concept behind Microsoft’s “Stories” illustrates this point. Each story provides information about current projects, without bragging. The writing in stories such as “The Garage: Microsoft’s 24-Hour Idea Factory” or “88 Acres: How Microsoft Quietly Built the City of the Future” is top-notch, like something you might read in Harpers or The New York Times.

Bring the wow

Provide content your target audience is passionate about. On Mashable, for example, a number of auto advertisers are featured, but Mashable keeps the content varied and interesting by tweaking the message for each line’s audience. Mitsubishi targets “connected” families with their series, The Connected Life, which features articles on sustainability, energy-saving home solutions and technology for healthy lifestyles. Volvo buyers are into sleek design, so Mashable created a Leaders in Design series for the automaker. The point is not to make Volvo the focus of each article. The focus is on great design. Mentioning Volvo alongside other products aligns Volvo and superior design in a reader’s mind.

Aim for long-term, continuous engagement

Unlike traditional advertising, content marketing does not generate new leads immediately. In content marketing, building reputation is key.

Forbes, for example, positions itself as an expert in all things business. Their tagline is “Information for the World’s Business Leaders.” Forbes hires experts in their field to write articles and blogs. Each article is chock full of examples, and covers topics that are highly relevant to everyone in the office, from front-line employees to the CEO. Their site is the perfect place to find how-to articles for just about anything related to doing business. For example, while researching this article, I came across many Forbes articles on content marketing – everything from “The Top 7 Content Marketing Trends Dominating 2014” to “Your Guide to Using Images in Your Content Marketing Strategy.”

Posted by Sarah Hawkins

4 Ways University Hospitals of Cleveland competes digitally

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 3.28.59 PM

Imagine if you were competing against 22 hospitals in a 25-mile radius.

How would you cut through the noise and clutter? How would you become a hospital of choice for the community? How are you going to reach a tech savvy audience?

For starters, you’ve got to build brand recognition. You’ve got to figure out what makes you different. You’ve got to give patients what they want.

And most important: you’ve got to think digital.

University Hospitals of Cleveland is doing just that.

This hospital isn’t relying on traditional avenues like billboards, advertising or TV spots to reach their audience. Instead, they are talking to patients on social media. And that’s because a whopping 41% of people say social media would affect their choice of a hospital or medical facility.

Here’s how UH is attracting patients digitally:

  • A crisp and clean website, chock full of helpful information that’s easy to navigate – always a plus for consumers seeking information quickly and easily.
  • Its Facebook page has more than 18,000 fans. It offers a mix of hospital information, general health tips and timely stories.
  • A wealth of videos with health information on its YouTube channel, including a fun lip synch video on their home page with the staff at their children’s hospital, Rainbow Babies.
  • My UH Care is a platform that gives patients access to their health records in one convenient place. Patients can log-in by using their computer, smartphone or tablet. UH gave patients what they want: a tool to make healthcare simple and convenient.
Posted by Nancy Jean