The Coffey Blog

Words matter: Impart hope when talking about chronic conditions

Posted on: Monday, February 19, 2018

Marjorie Reece, Lead Senior Editor

Here's something we know: When trying to empower people with chronic conditions to make changes in their behaviors, we need to choose our words with care. Why? Because language has the power to inspire change—or enhance a sense of shame.

When writing for your health plan members, making your content helpful and hopeful can be as important as ensuring it's accurate and authoritative. If you're able to motivate your members to act, you can help your organization reduce costs, close HEDIS gaps and improve member experience. More important, you may make a real difference in the health and lives of your members. Inspiring health behavior change is meaningful work.

Choosing our language with care

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.

1. Put people—not conditions—first.

Avoid defining or labeling people by their condition. For example, say "person with diabetes" or "living with diabetes" instead of "diabetic." Also, avoid language that has negative undertones, such as referring to people as "victims" or suggesting that they are "suffering from" their condition.

2. 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.

3. 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. Consider letting your writing sit for a day or two, and read it again before you prepare it for publishing. That resting period could help you spot points of bias.

4. 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. One way to do that: Profile other members who have overcome a health challenge. Their stories could help your readers feel as though success is in their grasp.

5. 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 members know the value of finding providers who they are comfortable with and trust.

Consider interviewing network doctors. If your readers can see your doctors as warm, caring humans who really want to work with their patients, that could help create a culture of collaboration.

Get help when you need it

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.

Related reading

Content is king: How to pick a partner for your disease management newsletter
Keep it fresh when planning health plan newsletters
Put patients first: 3 ideas from the 2016 Forum for Healthcare Strategists' Summit