Why medical communicators need to keep the patient’s perspective in mind

Reading about medical conditions or the latest surgical procedures can be fascinating. But when you’re the patient, it’s more of a fact-finding mission on a tight timeline than a leisurely learning experience.

A new procedure or technique a doctor suggests might sound amazing, but the questions you have as a patient are more likely going to be about what it will feel like.

I recently had a successful surgery that I had put off with dread. I delayed the surgery because I was afraid of it, didn’t want to have it and was hoping I wouldn’t need it. I’m sure many other patients have done the same.

I reached a point where having the surgery wasn’t a choice anymore, but a question of when and how.

Something great happened, though.

The more I learned about the surgery, the better I felt about it.

Knowledge and empowerment pushed fear aside.

With the knowledge I have now, I wish I would have just gotten it done several years ago! I found it very reassuring when I became aware of the many processes, procedures and safeguards in place before and after surgery. 

As I put more distance between myself and that experience, I want to remember what it was like to be a patient and consumer of medical information.

I wanted honest answers, statistics about outcomes and recommendations about the best way forward for my specific case. I wanted to know the pros and cons of different options.

Clinicians are focused on achieving good outcomes for their patients. That benefits everyone: patients, insurers, hospitals and the physicians themselves.

Patients, however, are concerned with more than just a good outcome—they want the whole experience to be as comfortable as possible. There’s a reassuring peace of mind that comes from understanding what’s going to happen and knowing you’ve done everything you can to prepare for it.

Good patient education prepares patients for a procedure—and not just in terms of being physically ready. With surgical patients and many other categories of patients, there’s an emotional component as well.

Patients want to know:

Will it hurt? How badly and for how long?

How long will I need help with bathing and dressing or with preparing meals?

When will I feel like myself again?

When can I go back to work?

The answers to those questions can cause anxiety about a potential dependence on painkillers, not having someone to help with household chores or not being able to return to work soon enough to keep up with bills.

Doctors will tell you they can’t predict exactly what a patient’s experience will be like because every patient is different. However, it’s helpful to know that most patients don’t have the worst-case-scenario outcome that’s weighing on their minds.

As medical communicators, we need to be aware that the person reading the information is likely scared or nervous and in need of reassurance and straightforward answers — right now.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Coronavirus misinformation: How to find information you can trust during a pandemic

Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, having accurate information has been crucial to our daily decision-making about what’s safe. This is why I always have a bit of skepticism when people share something they’ve read or heard about the virus.

Did they remember the information accurately?

Was the information solid to begin with?

One of the good things about the wide availability of the Internet is that anyone with access can have a voice. That’s also one of the bad things about it.

A former boss used to say, “Everyone’s a publisher.” He was right.

Unfortunately, everyone who’s publishing didn’t get trained under tough editors who scrutinized their facts and how those facts were presented. Those were the people who would question a reporter in front of his or her peers, right there in the bullpen newsroom. This happened to me at my first reporting job, and it taught me to do my own article reviews to avoid the embarrassment of public humiliation. (There were other ways to earn that humiliation, like burning a bagel in the break room, but that’s another story.)

From my earliest days as a journalist, I learned to rely on trusted sources for my information. I interviewed people in a position to know what was happening. I checked my quotes before filing my stories. If anything didn’t sound right, I checked it.

I don’t know if everyone spreading information about the virus has been trained to use trusted sources and check facts. And that’s why I always want to know the source. If it’s an unfamiliar source, I’m not sure I can trust the information.

If someone tells you something about coronavirus or shares it with you via social media, please check the source. If it’s a source you don’t trust, check the facts against a trustworthy source.

Please be sure to get your health information from a reputable source you can trust. Having worked on content for Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, I know how careful they are about quality. For example, doctors review content for accuracy. I also trust government sources like the CDC and the local health department.

Because Covid-19 is new, scientists are constantly learning more about it. We need to stay updated on new findings that may change what we learned just a few months ago. That means checking the date of the information we read is important, too.

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Image by antonynjoro on Pixabay

How to Figure Out the Best Timing for the Steps in Your Business Marketing Schedule

Marketing should be done continually. But in this article, I’m focusing on figuring out when to put the business marketing pieces in place for a specific event or goal.

In a small organization, creating content is often a low priority. Unfortunately, that means it can be a last-minute venture, as well.

This is not a good strategy. In fact, this is what happens when you don’t have a strategy.

Well-intentioned people scramble at the last minute to promote an event they’ve known about for months. Why? They were too busy planning the actual event to put effort and time into promoting it.

Events can be overwhelming and the to-do list can be daunting. Getting everything done starts with looking at what you want to accomplish by your event date or go-live date or publication date.

Get over your fear and make a plan now!

How do you do it?

You can find tools online for making a marketing schedule or just use an Excel program. But first, you need to get into the mindset of working backward from your goal. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a useful skill that will help you allow enough time for what you need to accomplish.

Warning: it can be a shock to find out how early you need to get started!

Start with your event date

Don’t get rattled. There’s a process for this. Start with what you already know—your event date or go-live date or publication date. That’s the first thing to put on your schedule.

Now, take that date and work backward from it. If it’s an event, what’s the deadline for people to register? Let’s say it’s two weeks before your event. (Many people accept last-minute registrations, but let’s ignore that stress-inducing thought for now.)

You have now identified the time frame for your most intense promotion, which will likely be a month or two before the registration deadline. Depending on your audience and the size of your event, you may want to start promoting it a few months earlier.

I should note that many people tend to wait until the last minute to sign up for things. That could mean two weeks before a major event or two days before a small one. But don’t let that stop you from planning this out. Potential customers may need to hear about your event multiple times before signing up for it.

Decide which methods you will use for promotion

Social media is faster than print, but you still need a plan. When I promoted events as an employee for a non-profit organization, I wrote social media posts for every day of the promotional time frame. Every Monday, I would schedule the posts for that whole week. I had already written the posts in advance, so scheduling was easy.

Put your posting dates on your marketing schedule, then work backward to schedule your writing time for the posts. I like writing them all at once so I can keep track of what was said and how it was worded. This prevents duplication and makes each post unique.

If you are printing anything, you’ll need to allow for design and printing time. Mark down the deadlines for those after getting time estimates from those vendors.

That means checking with the printer to see how busy they will be at that time and how quickly they can print your job. Are you using special foil or die cuts? Those may add to the printing time.

Find out when the printer needs to receive your files. Then, add that to your schedule.

Allow time for others involved in creating content

Once you’ve figured out the printing schedule, you have to come up with a date earlier than that for turning materials over to a graphic designer. You have one, don’t you? (If you don’t, I can refer you to a good one!)

Ask her how much time she needs to create what you’ll need. Let’s say she tells you two weeks. Add three business days to that for reviews and tweaks.

Now you know when you need to have your content written for the designer. Oh, you’re not writing it yourself?

Then contact a writer (like me!) and get a time estimate from her like you did for the designer. Make an appointment to meet or call to get those ideas flowing. Allow yourself content review time for your boss(es).

Tip: Some people want to wait until the design phase to review content, but I don’t recommend it. You’ll save money and time by reviewing the content before it goes to a designer.

Review and expand your plan, adjusting as needed

Looking at your plan now, you should have deadlines for printing, design, social media posting and content creation. You can use the same process for any promotional methods you are using.

Mapping it all out will give you a visual picture of the busiest times, which means you can warn people now that you’ll be delegating some of those tasks in six weeks. Or you can move those tasks to a less-busy time in your marketing schedule, if possible.

The key is to start working on your marketing schedule early. That way, you can find out how long each part of the process is expected to take. Be sure to add in extra days if you can to allow for delays along the way.

I’ve often found delays happen in waiting to get the boss to review the content! Add extra time for that. If you don’t need it, you’ll be ahead of schedule. And that makes you look good.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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Best Tips to Get the Content You Need from Freelance Writers

When you have too much content marketing work to do yourself, hiring a freelance writer (or several) is a great way to get –and keep– several projects going at a time. I’ve managed six figure projects for clients. There’s no way I could have done that without hiring a number of freelance content writers.

Still, entrusting your content creation to a freelance writer involves exactly that–trust. You’re counting on them to provide quality content that meets your needs.

Find a writer.

If you’ve researched a writer’s background on LinkedIn or her own website and/or received a referral from a trusted colleague and reviewed writing samples, you’ve taken the first step toward making sure you get what you need.

PRO TIP: Review unedited writing samples to get a true picture of what you’re getting. A good editor may have made major improvements to the copy a writer originally submitted, but you won’t know that if you only see the edited version.

I have the unique perspective of being a freelance writer who has hired many other freelance writers. As you might expect, I learned a lot about working with them. Here’s what I learned that can help you.

When you have a project available, send an email (with “assignment available” as the subject) to your list of approved freelancers. We used a form for this, so all I had to do was fill in the blanks with details.

Details can include: a short description of the project, the deadline, the type of content (web copy, blog posts, social media posts), pay rate and number of words. You can also supply other details, such as “sources are provided” or “must be able to upload content into WordPress.”

There are two great advantages to sending an email like this.

1. You give contractors a brief, but clear understanding of what you need so they can quickly decide whether to apply.

2. You save time by reaching out to multiple people at once and hearing back from only the ones who are interested and available at that time.

Be clear about what you need.

When starting a project, have a contract or at least an email that constitutes a written agreement of the work that will be done, as well as fees and deadlines. Clear communication matters. When expectations are explained up front, it cuts down on confusion during the project.

Once you’ve hired someone to write your content, give them as much information about the project as you can. Your goal is to provide all the guidance and background they need to start and to anticipate questions they might ask. This will help you later! Instead of answering questions, you’ll be humming along on your next project.

If you’ve prepped the writer well, there shouldn’t be too many questions along the way. But sometimes unexpected situations happen—like a subject matter expert not returning a writer’s phone calls. Be responsive to the writer’s questions to keep the project moving. If a writer doesn’t hear from you within a short span of time, she’s going to work on a project for someone else while waiting for you to answer her question. You didn’t think yours was her only project, did you?

PRO TIP: Plan secret wiggle room in deadlines. Whenever possible, I gave writers deadlines that were two or three days earlier than the date when I actually needed the content. This gives you more time to review the copy and get questions answered. It also allows you to grant the writer a deadline extension if he or she needs it.

Do the necessary paperwork.

Ask the freelancer to complete a W-9 form. You shouldn’t have any trouble getting this from the writer, because he can’t get paid without it. This simple form provides the tax ID number you’ll need when you make payments to freelancers and send 1099 forms to freelancers and the IRS.

Since taxes are not withheld from payments to contractors, I assume IRS computers compare 1099 forms with the contractors’ taxes to make sure they paid their self-employment tax on their earnings as an independent contractor.

Ask for an invoice (or invoices) that you can give to your accounts payable department. Depending on the size of the project, you may have agreed to pay a third of the fee at the start of the project and then the other two thirds in separate payments at certain intervals. If it’s recurring work, you’ll most likely want monthly invoices.

Review and give feedback.

When you receive the completed project, check the length and format. Give it a quick read to see if it has the right tone, the right kind of information or the right sources. If there are any problems, you’ll want to let the writer know right away so there’s time to address any issues.

If you expect to hire the same freelance content writer again, it’s helpful to give feedback. That way, the writer can get a sense of what you’ll need next time.

Image by Steve DiMatteo from Pixabay

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5 Tips: How to Get Information for Your Company Blog

Since you’ve been put in charge of marketing for your company, the blog on the website is now part of your job. You have some great ideas for blog posts, but you need cooperation from co-workers who can provide the information for the posts.

The problem: Everyone is busy doing their jobs. How will you get information from subject matter experts? You need to think like a journalist.

Do your research.

Learn what you can about the topic in question. Read information your company has written about it. See what people are saying on social media, other media or Reddit about the topic. This will help you understand the topic and create good questions to ask.

Write questions for your expert in advance.

It may be easier for your co-worker to think about the questions a few days before you interview him or her. Or it may be necessary for the person to answer via email because of travel limitations, a different time zone or a busy schedule. Bonus: When someone emails answers to your questions, it’s simple to copy and paste their exact words into the blog as a quote.

Talk to other people who will brag about the person who is too modest to brag about himself.

I once had to write a story about a school district employee being promoted to superintendent. He was so modest, he didn’t want to say much about himself. I needed more than that for a story, so I started talking to his co-workers who knew him and could talk about his accomplishments. This approach can be helpful if you’re writing about a co-worker who received a promotion or award but is too modest to talk about it.

Be patient.

Sometimes, you might need to wait to talk to someone when it’s more convenient for them. I once waited to talk to an official after he examined a body that had been found in Lake Erie. When he came up from the beach, we did an interview and I got my questions answered. Even if you have set up a time to talk, your co-worker may have to take care of something more urgent first. Bring your laptop or something else you can work on in case your interviewee keeps you waiting.

Ghostwrite and get approval.

This tip comes from the content marketing side when we needed to get information from a busy doctor. Instead of doing the interview he didn’t have time to do, we did research and wrote a blog post for him to review, edit and approve. You can do the same for a busy executive at your company if an interview isn’t possible.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you when you’re working on your company blog or company newsletter. I’ve used all of these methods. They worked for me and they can work for you, too.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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How to Write When You Don’t Know Where to Start

Here’s your dilemma: Your boss needs a summary of what you found in your market research for a potential new product, but you don’t know where to start.

Try this:

Sum it up. Think about what you would tell a friend about a movie you just saw. You wouldn’t run through the whole plot or give excessive details. You’d give a synopsis. Write a couple sentences about the heart of what you want to say. Then you can build from there, adding in details where necessary.

Do a quick outline. This doesn’t have to be a long, complex outline. You just need to get a few highlights on the blank screen so you can have a starting point. What are the main points you want to mention? List the most important ones first. You can always rearrange them later if you decide that one is more important than you initially thought.

Start in the middle or at the end. A blank screen can be intimidating, and the pressure of having a great introduction can make you discard every thought you start to type. Maybe you have a great conclusion in mind that makes a recommendation based on your findings. Start with that and put it at the bottom of the page. Then build your case from the middle by writing about the market research you did. You could focus on demographics for a paragraph or two, for example. Explain what you found and how your company’s potential new product could serve that demographic. Do this for the other essential aspects of your research. Then go back to the top and write the introduction, which will be easy to write because you already know what’s coming next.

Think about the purpose of what you’re trying to write. Are you trying to present data in an objective way or are you trying to persuade the reader to agree with your recommendation? Spelling out your goal — even if you delete that sentence later — can help focus your mind on what should follow.

Start small. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spend before your next meeting, that’s enough to capture a few thoughts. Once you’ve got a few sentences down, that blank screen won’t look so scary the next time you look at it. Go back to it later and spend another chunk of time when you can. Repeat. Repeat. You may be able to prevent writer’s block by working on several things at a time. When you get stuck on one project, switch to another.

Now, get started!

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How to Proofread Like a Pro

No one wants to lose a lot of money because of a misplaced or missing punctuation mark, but it happens. And it’s embarrassing to have a typo in a document, especially if that typo is in someone’s name.

Catching these kinds of mistakes is not hard if you follow my method.

The best way I’ve found to catch mistakes is by reading or skimming through an article multiple times, checking for different things each time. For example, after you’ve checked the spelling of Jane Levesque’s name, skim through the entire article or document to check multiple mentions. When your brain is focused on this singular task, it’s easy to notice the “s” was missing in one of the mentions, for example.

Check and double check proper names against a trusted source to be sure they are correct. This is a lesson ingrained from my years in newspapers. That quickly written note on a piece of paper used during a phone call might not be right. Confirm that the “a” is actually an “a” and not an “e.” Check the person’s LinkedIn profile or company website profile.

Skim through again to look only at your company’s name. Aaargh! There’s a letter missing from your company’s name in one of the 12 mentions, but you caught it. If there’s a brand name that needs a trademark symbol next to it, check for the symbol, too, or you’ll be hearing from corporate counsel.

After you’ve checked proper names, you can continue skimming over a document several more times to look for other things, such as punctuation or subject/verb agreement (Does the singular noun have a singular verb? “He streamlines…” instead of “He streamline…”) You can get as specific as you like because you’re just focusing on one aspect of the article or document.

It can be tempting to try to save time by checking for multiple things in one read-through. Don’t do it! Focusing on one thing at a time is the key to successful proofreading. If it helps, you can even make a checklist of the most important items to review. Just go through them one at a time and don’t start on the next one until the one you’re working on is finished. Trust me. It will save you frustration in the end.

If you’re not sure how to spell a word or how to use a punctuation mark, look it up. With online resources, it’s easy to check these kinds of things.

Oh, and one more thing. The spell check function in your software is not all-knowing, so don’t do everything it tells you to do. Look at the suggestions and decide for yourself whether it makes sense to make the recommended changes. My name comes up as “Lovesick” in spell check, which is good for a giggle but not for a final draft.  

Happy proofing!

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