This is a guest post written by one of Aha Media Group’s former writers, Hadassa Field. Her sister lost her battle with breast cancer; she is very much missed by friends, family and her community. 

During her sister’s illness, Hadassa learned more than she ever wanted to know about breast cancer by performing online research. Here are her thoughts on how we can improve as healthcare marketers.

Writing healthcare content may seem like a theoretical exercise, until you know a cancer patient personally. Over the course of my sister’s seven year, losing battle with cancer, I learned quite a few things that all healthcare marketers should know. Here’s what cancer patients are really thinking when they read your website:

  1. Don’t underestimate how much I want to be reassured. Don’t just write dry content in a detached style. I’ve been diagnosed with a terrifying, life-threatening illness, and I want some comfort along with the information I am gathering. Make an effort to use the occasional reassuring phrase, so that I start to think that your center might be the place I might be able to trust.
  2. Don’t exaggerate the severity of my illness.I’ve already done lots of research before landing on your site, and I know just how sick I am. When you doom me to early death unless I use the physicians at your center, it strikes a false note, and gets my mouse moving elsewhere.
  3. Don’t make grandiose statements you can’t be back up. No cancer center can truly say that they provide incomparable care. I’ll get concerned that I am being sold a bill of goods if I feel that you are all talk and no walk. I am much more impressed by research that your doctors lead, techniques developed at your hospital, and hard percentages of recovery rates, than I am by fancy claims.
  4. Don’t be vague. I am tired and overwhelmed. Walk me through the care process clearly and succinctly. Tell me exactly who I will see first, which nurses will oversee my care, whether there will be collaborative meetings about my case, and what kind of experimental options I will have access to. I am trying desperately to keep my cool, but I’ll feel so much better if you can take some of that burden off of my shoulders.
  5. For goodness sakes, don’t assign blame. Did you ever think of how I feel when I have suffered through rounds of treatment, only to find my cancer has not responded? I may be searching your site after my cancer has returned, to find out what my options are. Please, oh please, don’t ever say discuss “patients as non-responders” in your literature, or insinuate in any way that I, as a person, could have chosen to respond, if I really, really wanted to. Trust me, it is not that simple. Acknowledge how powerless I am, and try to refer to “cancers that don’t respond to treatment,” as opposed to patients who don’t respond. It’s a small change that means a lot to me.
  6. Don’t forget about my loved ones. When you refer to my children, my significant other, or my parents in your content, I feel like you realize that I am not an isolated medical case. I am a whole world, and much of it might be crumbling right now. Take the time and acknowledge that. Tell me about programs or care options available to my family and friends who will be living through cancer with me, and who may have to deal with it after I am gone. Don’t think I haven’t thought of that; I’ve thought of everything.

As a healthcare marketer, you have an awesome opportunity – you can help a real, live person navigate what is probably the biggest challenge of their life. Although you often think you do this anyway, this time, make a special effort to put yourself into the reader’s mind.

Don’t just write as if it doesn’t matter. Because, trust me, it really, really does.

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