Words matter: Impart hope when talking about chronic conditions
Motivate meaningful change with your healthcare content. Find out which words to use, and which you should avoid, as you write.
As a health plan or hospital marketer, your content has the power to inspire action. That's never truer than when it comes to empowering people with chronic conditions to make changes in their behaviors.
But unless we choose our words with care, language can also enhance a sense of shame. That's the opposite of uplifting. More on that in a moment. But first, let's talk about how helpful and hopeful content benefits both your audience and your organization.
Change is good
If you're writing for your health plan members, motivating your members to act can help your organization reduce costs, close HEDIS gaps and improve member experience.
More importantly, you may make a real difference in the health and lives of your healthcare consumers. Inspiring health behavior change is meaningful work. And for hospital marketers, it provides opportunities to showcase your organization's services and your providers who can help people manage their health conditions.
Choosing our language with care: Lessons from the world of diabetes
In 2017, the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the American Diabetes Association released recommendations for healthcare professionals—including writers and editors—on how to talk about diabetes. We believe these suggestions can offer insights on how to communicate more effectively and sensitively about other chronic health conditions as well.
Here are five strategies to truly connect with and empower people—with empathy, compassion and understanding.
- Put people—not conditions—first.
Avoid defining or labeling people by their condition. For example, say "person with diabetes," "person who has diabetes" or "living with diabetes" instead of "diabetic." Also, avoid language that has negative undertones. For example, referring to people as "victims" or suggesting that they're "suffering from" their condition may be well-intentioned, but it likely won't empower them.
- Stay neutral and free of judgment
Instead of urging people to "control" their health condition—or to "adhere" or be "compliant"—use the more realistic and nonjudgmental word "manage."
Remember that it's not easy to live with a serious health condition on a daily basis—and that you're talking with adults who make their own choices. Focus on sharing needed facts and practical, actionable tips—minus the judgment.
Pro tip: Asking people to "try" or saying "do your best" can be a good way to offer advice with empathy. And it may sound more doable—especially if you let people know you're in their corner with a phrase like, "Hang in there" or "You got this!"
- Avoid stigma.
Many health conditions—including diabetes—can affect people of all ages, walks of life and body types. Their challenges are real, and content that comes with a helping of shame can make things a little worse. Research has shown that people who experience stigma feel more stressed and are less likely to seek follow-up care.
Aim for content that's both inclusive and respectful. Make sure it doesn't outwardly, or even subtly, place blame on people for their current situations or past failures.
Pro tip: Consider letting your writing sit for a day or two, then read it again before you prepare it for publishing. That resting period could help you spot points of bias.
- Focus on strengths and inspire hope.
Emphasize self-efficacy and personal strength. Help people believe they can make a difference in their own well-being. Keep the tone upbeat, and look for ways to encourage your readers to build on their accomplishments.
Pro tip: Profile other members or patients who have overcome a health challenge with the help of your doctors, case managers or other providers. Their stories could help your readers feel as though success is in their grasp. And again, it's a great way to highlight the role your providers play in helping people live their best.
- Foster collaboration with providers.
Let people know they are full partners with their doctors and other medical professionals. Encourage honest and open communication. These healthy patient-provider relationships are vital to positive outcomes, so let your audience know the value of finding providers whom they are comfortable with and trust.
Consider interviewing providers. If your readers can see your providers as warm, caring humans who really want to work with their patients, that could help create a culture of collaboration.
Together, let's inspire healthy changes
Creating content that inspires and motivates is what we do at Coffey—we've been doing that work for more than 30 years. Our content creation team would love to learn more about your organization and your goals. Contact us, and let's start a conversation.
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