Manners still matter today, and they’re especially important for digital communication in healthcare. From the subject line to the signature, what you write in an email to a patient can have a big impact on your practice.
Successful patient engagement requires good etiquette in all of your communications, including online. We’re going to focus on one of the most important pieces: The one-on-one emails you send patients. Here are a few ways you can make sure the way you talk with patients online is compassionate and effective.
Write brief updates with empathy
When you have to choose between sending a long email and a quick update, it’s usually better to be brief. However, this doesn’t mean you should send a cold exchange that leaves the patient feeling unhappy.
You have to communicate with empathy, which means choosing your words wisely to convey feelings. Brief updates that convey empathy won’t overwhelm patients and will show them you truly care about them. For instance, you can acknowledge a difficult diagnosis in an email by using caring words and sharing useful resources for counseling.
Use automatic messages sparingly
Automatic messages can often feel impersonal and should be used sparingly. But there are a few situations where it’s appropriate to send an automated response. For instance, they can be useful when responding to an unsolicited email from someone who isn’t a patient.
You may want to automate correspondence for appointment reminders or seasonal messages, such as flu shot alerts. Automated responses can also be useful for emails your office receives after hours, so patients know when an actual person will reply.
Find the right tone for your messages
Slang and an informal tone usually don’t work for digital communication in healthcare — they can send the wrong message to patients and may convince them to look elsewhere for services. You also want to avoid sarcasm or inappropriate humor in your emails.
The right tone is conversational, direct and emphatic. But you don’t want flowery language that isn’t genuine. So your email shouldn’t say, “It would be the greatest honor to have your beautiful presence in our office next Monday.” Instead, you should write, “Your next appointment is scheduled for Monday. We look forward to seeing you.”
Make subject lines accurate and interesting
Whether you’re sending a quick email or responding to a question, the subject line should be informative and to-the-point. You don’t want a cute subject line that confuses the reader and makes them lose respect for your healthcare organization.
On the other hand, you don’t want the first thing they see to be a long, clinical statement that doesn’t inspire them to open the email. A patient is more likely to open a subject line that says, “answers to your questions about cancer symptoms,” than “abnormal epidemiological and clinical presenting symptoms of cancer.”
Use an appropriate salutation
After the subject line, the next thing patients notice is the salutation. Make sure you spell the patient’s name correctly. Also, don’t use a laid-back greeting like “Yo” or “Hey.” Even if you have an easy-going style, patients expect electronic communication in healthcare to be professional. It’s better to use “Hi,” “Hello” or “Dear [insert name].”
Avoid caps lock and excessive bold type
It’s okay to occasionally use some bold type in an email to emphasize an important point, such as a change in appointment time. However, there is rarely an appropriate situation to use caps lock. Many people interpret a message written in caps lock as yelling. It can also reveal that no one bothered to edit the email before sending it.
Text written in all capital letters is harder to read for some people. It may even make it more difficult for patients to understand and retain the information in an email.
Don’t experiment with fonts or text colors
You should focus on classic fonts that are easy to read in an email. Patients may struggle to read a cursive or elaborate font, especially if they have problems with their eyesight or are using their phones to check messages. Stick to classic fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica and Calibri.
An email to a patient is also not the right time to experiment with different text colors. Some colors, such as light pink or yellow, are tough to read. Others may be too distracting or convey the wrong message. Red text for an appointment reminder may make the patient think something is seriously wrong. Even tamer shades like green or purple may confuse patients and make them think you’re not professional.
Use an appropriate signature
The way you end a digital communication also matters. The signature should follow a standard style with your name, titles, phone numbers and address. It’s usually not appropriate to sign an email with a nickname unless it’s a familiar one that all patients and staff will recognize.
Try to make a habit of following these etiquette tips in your digital communications with patients. A few of them may require some practice, but soon it will be as simple as remembering to keep your elbows off the dining room table. In the end, your patients will be more informed about their health and have confidence in your care.
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