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6 Tips for Writing Patient-Oriented Health Content

Creating healthcare content for a general readership isn’t always easy, but it can be very satisfying – especially when you’re providing useful information on topics that people care about. I’ve spent much of my career writing about health and wellness for magazines, websites, and corporate clients (and, as an editor, helping other writers do their best possible work). These days, many companies – including Perficient Digital – are finding that medical clients are a growing part of their business. As a result, more and more writers may find they need to get up to speed on this interesting field of work.
Here’s some advice for getting started:

1. Accuracy is everything

Because so much health information found online or in print is poorly researched, outdated, or misleading, people are quick to mistrust what they read. That reaction is understandable – where health is concerned, taking poor advice can actually be harmful. So it’s vital that everything you say is well documented and accurate. That’s especially true if you’re writing for healthcare clients such as hospitals or insurers, who need the information they provide to be as trustworthy as possible.

2. Use the highest-quality sources

Too often, researching healthcare content is done like a game of telephone: Writers will create copy based on other writers’ interpretations of sources, rather than the sources themselves. With each new version, errors, misinterpretations, and false assumptions are magnified and multiplied, while important facts may be lost. Even the best health websites pick and choose what information they include, and often emphasize whatever they think is most newsworthy. Instead of parroting press reports, it’s important to consult primary or near-primary sources – such as medical journals, university publications, and doctors or researchers themselves – whenever you can.

3. Make sure your information is both the latest and best available

The worst phrase you can use in health copy is “research shows…” What research? Conducted when? And by whom?
Health advice changes all the time, as new studies, new policies and new interpretations all come into play. A medical study conducted five years ago may have been supplanted by newer research with a larger number of participants, while government insurance regulations that were in place last year could already have been overwritten. Be sure the information you’re providing takes into account all the latest data – with an understanding that some of that data may be more reliable than others.

4. Keep things clear

Creating health content often involves translating scientific jargon and “doctor talk” into explanations any reasonable person can understand. So use everyday language and avoid technical terminology – and if you must use unfamiliar medical terms, be sure to explain them. If you interview a doctor, researcher, or other professional, ask them to describe things if they’re talking to a patient, not another physician.
It can help to imagine you’re explaining something out loud to a person standing next to you. Would they understand everything you’re saying? Would they remain interested all the way through? If not, you still have work to do.

5. Emphasize the benefits

Most people seek out health information with the hope that it will help them or others they care about – if not for a problem they’re facing now, then for one they can imagine having in the future.
If you’re writing for a client who, for example, has a new diagnostic imaging scanner that takes higher-resolution images than its competitors, you might be tempted to start by emphasizing all the technological innovations featured in the machine. But what the average reader cares about is how the device could help their doctor diagnose an illness at an earlier stage, making successful treatment more likely. If that’s your hook, people are more likely to keep reading.

6. Make it personal

Depending on how much space you have, true anecdotes about people who’ve faced a certain health issue or undergone a certain treatment can help keep your readers intrigued. The more details you provide about how that person felt going through it, the better others can relate. Be sure you have clear permission to publish information about their health condition—as well as the level of personally identifying details they’re willing to share.
In the end, there’s one last question to ask: Is the content interesting, informative, and readable? If it is to you, it probably will be to others as well.

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Ben Kallen

Ben Kallen is a senior editor with Perficient Digital. He has more than two decades of experience as a writer, editor and content manager, both for corporate clients and for publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Men's Fitness, Men's Journal, Natural Health, the New York Times, Shape and WebMD.

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