“White coat syndrome” describes when someone’s blood pressure rises in a provider’s exam room. As a healthcare marketer or communicator, you, too, can get white coat syndrome when thinking about how to communicate with providers. A flutter in your chest reminds you: You’re writing for a busy audience with no time to waste.
Writing for a provider audience takes skill in distilling information so they can scan and evaluate it quickly. They need to know right away: Is this information relevant to me in my work with patients? Whether you’re writing to recruit, sell, inform, or seek referrals, healthcare providers expect you to be concise, relevant, and accurate.
You can reach more time-crunched providers by keeping in mind five essential tips:
- Write descriptive titles and content summaries.
- Communicate with marketing channels the providers prefer.
- Team up with experts in your organization who have relationships with providers.
- Avoid jargon and advocate for your provider audience.
- Make your content easy to find.
Let’s take a cleansing breath and review some tips for writing for a provider audience.
1. Write descriptive titles and summaries of content
Medical and scholarly journals figured this out long ago: descriptive titles and abstracts summarizing the content help readers evaluate if they need to read further or move along. When you’re writing for a provider audience, there’s a lesson in that.
First, don’t hint at the content. Instead, write narrative titles to help providers know a communication or article is relevant. Here’s an example:
Don’t write: “Important news for therapists.”
Do write: “Mental health clinicians can now refer clients for substance use disorder to XYZ program.”
Next, write a short summary — bulleted lists work, too — of the key messages and insert it before the body content. If providers read only the title and the summary, they will decide if they need to dive into the details. This practice can apply to many types of writing for providers, particularly:
- Articles or blog posts
- Policy and practice documents
- Web content
Descriptive titles and summaries help in another way, too. They provide the metadata that search engines and databases use to index and evaluate the relevancy of content. In other words, you’ll be writing for search engine optimization, or SEO.
The same tips apply to emails: Make subject lines and preview (preheader) text descriptive and relevant. Use the text that appears in the inboxes to summarize information providers can use to make that split-second “open or delete” decision.
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2. Communicate with tools that providers prefer
Healthlink Dimensions, a healthcare industry database, surveyed healthcare providers about their communications preferences for 2022. The results (available for download by request): providers overwhelmingly (72%) preferred email for industry news, product updates and announcements, and research and educational opportunities.
Behind email were, in order, professional conference exhibits (12%) and visits from company representatives (9%) — indicating some preference, the company suggested, for personal connection. Few preferred direct mail (4%) or text and SMS messaging (2%) and none chose phone, fax or social media as a preferred method.
Email puts healthcare professionals in control. They can choose when to look at it because they can read the email from their omnipresent mobile devices. Providers in the Healthlink Dimensions survey said they used a smartphone primarily (50%) or sometimes (39%) to read email.
As efficient as email is, inboxes are overflowing. It’s easy for providers to delete or overlook emails. So, when your message is critical, consider using another channel like direct mail to back up your electronic communications to providers.
3. Team up with provider liaisons and physician leaders
Have you heard the phrase, “It’s not the message, it’s the messenger”?
Healthcare professionals trust and value what they learn from other healthcare providers and recognized experts. Many organizations also have teams dedicated to maintaining relationships with providers. Some organizations call them “provider relations,” others may use terms like “provider account management.” Whatever they’re called, they have firsthand relationships with the providers you are writing to reach.
Here’s how they can help anyone writing for provider audiences:
- They know the dynamics of the organizations you are trying to reach, including the names and contact information of gatekeepers. Writing is easier and becomes more focused when you understand your audience(s).
- They can help you find out how individual organizations communicate internally — monthly meetings, daily rounds, emails, breakroom bulletin boards. This helps you choose the formats and channels that providers use.
- They carry vital information about policy, services, products, internal developments that providers want to hear. You can help them articulate key messages, draft formal and informal communications, and advance the organization’s reputation.
Lean on physician leaders
You can also start with the experts. Look around your organization to identify the leaders in medicine, research and patient care that other healthcare providers respect. Then, team up with them to develop content for blogs or articles using their bylines or messages sent from their email addresses.
Sure, those leaders may not have the time or inclination to start writing for physicians. That’s why organizations hire (ghost) writers. A Q&A session with a busy healthcare leader can yield multiple ideas for content and are an extraordinary way for writers to learn more about their own organizations.
4. Avoid jargon and advocate for your provider audience
It can be easy to slip into jargon and convoluted language when you’re writing for providers. Resist!
Apply the same standards for writing for a provider audience as you do in all your communications:
- Always use plain language. These free tools can help or try your hand at Grammarly and Readable.
- State your key message and why it matters to them.
- Use subheads and bulleted lists to help providers scan the letter and quickly discern your message.
- Don’t use long, flowery introductions or signoffs: Get to the point right after the salutation (“Dear Dr. Jones”) and end with acknowledging their role in patient care and community health.
- Direct your provider audience back to your website for information.
- Provide clear contact information if they have questions or concerns.
Don’t let good content get lost in the compliance shuffle
Healthcare can be complicated, and organizations often need legal and compliance departments to review communications for provider audiences.
While the compliance department’s job is to protect the organization from any liability; yours is to make sure physicians can understand and absorb the content. Those are not divergent goals — but they can begin to feel like it when your provider content comes back redlined and sounding like a contract.
Make sure to ask to review communications in tandem with legal and compliance. If that’s not an option, ask to talk over their edits when you get a document back. When you understand their intent, you can recommend revisions that work for everyone.
5. Make your provider content easy to find
If your organization is using SEO best practices, you’re already on the way to driving healthcare providers to content they value. Even if you’re not there yet, you can still make a good impression when a provider reaches your site.
- Don’t make providers wade through pages of material they don’t need or want — make sure you include an internal search feature on your site.
- As a backup to its internal search feature, your website should have an information architecture with descriptive labels that point providers to key topics and information.
- Remember the suggestions in tip #1 about descriptive titles and summaries? When you’re writing website content for providers, add metadata — keywords, descriptions, date of publication — in your content management system. The metadata helps sort and prioritize the most relevant content when providers search your website.
- Write with a “mobile first” mindset. Providers are using their mobile devices for news and information.
- Make it easy for them to request more information from you with easy-to-find contact information and forms.
- If you send regular communications like email newsletters, keep those in place where providers can find them quickly if needed. News, policies and publications are other communications that providers will peruse.
What about social media?
Doctors and healthcare organizations have started harnessing social media to reach patients and network. But is the right channel for your provider communications?
In the Healthlink Dimensions survey of health care providers, zero respondents said they wanted organizations such as device or drug makers to communicate with them by social media. It’s not that healthcare providers aren’t on social media; it’s that they prefer to communicate on their terms.
So, it seems wise to continue using social media to share news with providers but not rely on it as a primary communication channel. And since networking is one of the chief reasons providers are on social media (in their professional roles), consider helping experts in your organization expand their networks and be carriers of your messages to providers.
While writing for a provider audience may seem daunting, it’s best not to overthink your process. Like patients and consumers, providers want content that’s easy to digest, easy to find and delivered on the channels they use most. Following these best practices can help make sure your message resonates and earns respect from this discerning audience.
Partner with healthcare writers who understand provider audiences. WriterGirl’s team of healthcare writers creates custom content that resonates with your specific audience. Whether you want to reach patients or providers, we’ll deliver. Reach out anytime to learn more.