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Healthcare Content: The Challenges of Writing for Healthcare Consumers

Medical Record

It seems like such a simple task: Write informative content about your healthcare organization that speaks to your users’ concerns and encourages them to convert. Easy, right?

If you’re involved even tangentially with healthcare content development, I’m assuming the preceding paragraph led to sarcastic scoffs or eye-rolling from you. Writing high-quality healthcare content that converts is hard work. It’s equal parts science and art form. You have to be empathetic without pandering. You have to be clear and direct without coming off as curt or unfeeling. And you have to balance the business goals of your organization while not seeming like a salesperson.

The cold, hard truth is that not everyone is cut out to write healthcare content. Good writers — great writers, even — have trouble mastering the nuances of the audience and message. My ears perk up when I start hearing healthcare marketers say they’re bringing in agency writers without deep healthcare experience. We’ve seen it time and again: The skills that lead to success in writing e-commerce and other digital content do not directly translate to writing good healthcare content.

There are many areas in which healthcare content stands alone (or nearly alone) in the digital landscape. Let’s go through a few of them together.

Most online consumers want to buy

Think about where you like to shop online. You likely go there either because you’re actively looking to buy something or you’re doing research with the possible intent of buying down the road.

Purchase intent, or the willingness to buy, is a common thread among all consumer personas for most retailers. If I’m browsing shoes, you can infer that I either am going to buy shoes immediately or that I intend to buy shoes at some point in the near future. So it goes with anything we browse or buy online — blenders, computers, cars, whatever.

The messaging for e-commerce and other retailers works because of that purchase intent. It’s minimalistic to avoid anything that may trip you up or send you down some rabbit hole. It’s mission-oriented to keep you on-task for what you came to buy. There’s enough wayfinding to get you to the area you want to find, but the majority of the site’s real estate is devoted to detailed images of the products you want to buy and a seamless experience for your purchase, shipping, etc.

Even if you’re shopping out of necessity — my shoes are worn down, my blender’s broken or my car’s toast — you still have purchase intent. You want the new thing, or you want the feeling you get from using the thing that no longer works.

Healthcare consumers do NOT want to buy

In contrast, most healthcare consumers are reluctant consumers at best. They’re not shopping out of desire. Instead, they’re coming to your organization at potentially the worst moment of their lives. They’re turning to you because they have to. And they’re trying to determine their options when they’re confused, scared or angry.

There are very few other service areas in which the consumer turns to the service provider in such a desperate state. When a consumer needs to compare healthcare options, they’re investigating and comparing out of obligation only. They’re likely sick and needing a procedure or treatment. Even if the user is being proactive and looking at preventive care and primary care, they’re still probably doing so from a negative state of mind (“I want to avoid getting sick”).

Overcoming fear with your healthcare content

When a typical e-commerce or digital consumer comes to a website to browse products and services, the goal is to facilitate their purchase intent. When a healthcare consumer comes to your organization’s site, you do want to get them where they want to go, but you also have to acknowledge and overcome their fear.

Fear is part of the experience for healthcare. Many consumers are afraid of doctors in general. Far more are afraid of the ramifications when they receive a diagnosis from another provider or they learn that they need a treatment regimen — surgery, chemotherapy and so on.

What other area of digital commerce do you know of where the consumer is actively afraid of either the service provider or the service itself? If you needed to go to the car dealership or your local big-box store, but you were afraid of either the people there or the services they offered, you’d probably either go somewhere else or simply not go at all.

With healthcare, that’s not an option. All of us will need to go to the doctor or to the hospital at some point. How you work to help the consumer overcome that fear is a major factor in whether that user becomes your organization’s patient.

Threading the healthcare content needle

Fortunately, you as the healthcare marketer have one advantage your peers in other industries don’t: the trust most people have in healthcare professionals. A 2021 poll by Ipsos found that healthcare workers and physicians are the most trusted professions. People may fear the doctor, but most people inherently trust them and value what they have to say.

It’s a process, but your healthcare content has a lot to do in a short time:

  • Acknowledge and validate the emotions – often negative – the consumer is feeling
  • Reassure them that your team is here to help
  • Prove why your team is the right choice to help the consumer (your unique experience, advanced technology, treatment options unavailable elsewhere, etc.)
  • Foster trust in the team providing these differentiating solutions, including through relevant patient stories that help the consumer see successful outcomes for people like them
  • Surface the logical next step, and encourage the user to take it

When you can do all these things with your healthcare content — when the user feels safe and secure in their choice of your team — the positive emotions of trust and security outweigh their fear. Then, and only then, is the user ready to convert.

Pick the right partner for your healthcare content

As a healthcare marketer, you have a higher and harder mountain to climb with your consumer than an e-commerce marketer has with theirs. But, with the right skillset and resources, you can build deep trust and prime users for a positive experience before they ever set foot in your organization’s door.

We work with clients nationwide to conceive, research and develop healthcare content that helps converts healthcare consumers into patients. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive healthcare content solutions.

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Michael Adkins, Senior Content Strategist, Digital Health Strategy

As part of Perficient's Digital Health Strategy team, Michael partners with healthcare organizations to create informative, conversion-centered content for a variety of applications, including websites and blogs. Michael writes content that highlights clients’ service-line offerings, expertise in unique treatments, differentiators in competitive markets and additional factors that are important to patients.

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