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How to Explain Healthcare Industry Terms in Plain English

September 3, 2015

By Amber Kemmis

Whether your target audience includes patients, pharmacists, doctors or even insurers, writing and speaking healthcare jargon is a thing in the past. Not only are patients gaining more and more control over their healthcare decisions, which means providers must begin to talk the talk patients do, but initiatives such as the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy have been created to make healthcare industry terms and discussions more usable to Americans. In fact, 9 out of 10 adults say that they find it difficult to use daily health information found in retail stores, healthcare locations, and media.

As health literacy and patient control begin to impact the healthcare industry more and more, healthcare marketers, providers, and healthcare staff will need to start explaining healthcare industry terms in plain english and find better ways of presenting health related content. Here are 7 tips to get you started:

  1. Imagine you’re talking to children: Teachers are excellent at simplying concepts for their young-minded audience. Although you don’t market to third graders, you should explain healthcare terms in a way that is understandable for an audience that hasn’t attended med school. Don’t bust out your baby voice, but fully explain healthcare terms as if there were a child right there saying, “What’s that? Why? What for? How?”

  2. Back up big words with big explanations: Sometimes, it is unavoidable to use a healthcare term that sounds like bibbobabble, but when you do have to use that bibbobabble, make sure to give as big of an explanation as possible.  You should, of course, keep the terms in the explanation simple, but it is important that anytime you do happen to use a word like “steotopygia” (big butt syndrome in case you were wondering) that you provide a clear explanation of what that word means, which is exactly what I did in parenthesis.

  3. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations: “The RN will now check your BP and give you 3 ccs of D5W, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll try MS for om.” Although most adults know what “LOL” or “TTYL” mean, they do not know the acronyms and abbreviations common in healthcare. Thus, sentences like the one here should never be repeated.  If you must use an abbreviation, always make sure to first give the full term and explain if needed.

  4. Don’t be condescending: There’s nothing worse than feeling inferior, especially if the person that makes you feel that way is someone you are paying. When explaining healthcare industry terms, don’t make your audience feel like they are being talked down to. Be educational but don’t be condescending.

  5. Use analogies and metaphors: Giving your audience a comparison to work from through the use of an analogy or metaphor is a really effective way to make a healthcare term more understandable, and it also helps you to connect better with your audience. For example, one of my professor’s in college once compared the brain stem to a secretary or assistant. To this day, I’ll never forget that teacher or what the role the brain stem is.

  6. Make it visual with graphics and diagrams: Imagining something you’ve never seen before like the chambers of the heart or the chemical reaction of a drug on a cell would be impossible, but we can understand these things when they are represented in visual content.

  7. Get feedback: When communicating with others, it’s important to pay just as much attention to your audience as you are on simplifying terminology. Verbal, facial and even virtual feedback (online reviews or surveys) from your audience will help to indicate if you need to provide further explanation.

How do you help your audience understand complicated healthcare industry terms? Share your advice in the comments!


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Topics: Copywriting, Creative, Messaging Strategy