Our national reckoning on race this year has shed light on disparities in many industries — and healthcare content creation is no exception. Our content needs to be accessible and helpful for all. It needs to be inclusive healthcare content.

Take a second and think of the healthcare content your organization produces. You can probably recall writing about symptoms such as blue lips, black-and-blue bruises or red rashes.

Now think about this: Did your team also include descriptions for patients with black or brown skin for whom those symptoms will look different?

The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it. Now let’s learn steps we can take as people who are passionate about healthcare communications to push the needle forward and create inclusive healthcare content.

Communication About Health Disparities: A Widespread Problem

Healthcare communication is often not as comprehensive as it should be — because, in many cases, medical education is not. A 2018 study of medical textbooks found that about 75% of the imagery shows how conditions present on patients with light skin. Fewer than 5% showcase dark skin.

A 2018 study found that about 75% of medical textbook imagery shows how conditions present on patients with light skin. Fewer than 5% showcase dark skin. #hcmktg Click To Tweet

Medical student Malone Mukwende noticed that he had no idea how conditions he was learning about would present on his dark skin. Now he’s writing a book to help providers diagnose health issues that affect people with darker skin.

Diversity in Healthcare Content Is Doable

When you recognize health disparities and do something to change them, you help a larger population of people have better health outcomes. You can take steps within your organization to ensure you speak to a broad audience, meeting as many of your potential patients’ needs as possible.

When you recognize health disparities & do something to change them, you help a larger population of people have better health outcomes. Click To Tweet

Diversify your content team

How can you know if you’re leaving people out of your content? By having writers of different identity and ethnic groups tell you. “If you’re creating healthcare content that is meant to reach and educate people of color, then people of color should be writing it,” says David Dylan Thomas, Content Strategy Advocate at Think Company and the author of Design for Cognitive Bias. “That’s the ideal to strive for and is an ongoing journey. Just because you’ve hired one Black woman, she’s not going to be able to speak for all Black women, any more than one white man can speak for all white men.”

Thomas says that if your hiring practices had a compass, aim toward having a staff representing as many different racial, ethnic and gender identities as possible.

If you're creating healthcare content meant to reach & educate people of color, then people of color should be writing it. Click To Tweet

Take a cue from tech

When you download a new computer program, the instructions are often broken up by device or operating system. Before installing the program, you have to find the section that pertains to what you’re using (iPhone, Android, Mac, PC). Thomas suggests using a similar approach for dividing up healthcare information. Create sections for different audiences that explain how symptoms present for that group.

For example, we know that heart attack symptoms are different for men than women. Mayo Clinic and Stanford Healthcare’s heart attack symptoms pages include sections devoted to women’s specific symptoms. You can use this approach for any condition that affects various populations differently.

And ensure that people can find and understand the information in their language. According to the CDC, people of Latino descent are more likely to die from diabetes than Caucasians. Consider automatically including diabetes content in Spanish, right next to the English version.

Use plain language

It’s no secret that at Aha Media, we are passionate about plain language. Use plain language and write easy-to-understand content to help people of all socioeconomic populations grasp the health information they need.

Plain language is crucial, which is why the Plain Writing Act is a law in the U.S. It requires federal agencies to use clear communication that the public can understand.

Use services such as:

Dig into data

Data has helped healthcare workers and public health officials reach the populations that need health services most during the coronavirus pandemic. Early in the pandemic, New Orleans health officials used census data to inform their testing strategy. They discovered that the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus were places where residents didn’t have cars. Their drive-thru testing sites were not serving people who needed it. The data informed their decision to change their strategy and send mobile testing vans into those neighborhoods instead.

Using your own analytics or general “big data” in healthcare communication, you can tailor messages to people of specific socioeconomic groups, gender or race to help them achieve the best health outcomes.

Use patient stories to give a variety of perspectives

Patient stories make an impact, helping potential patients see themselves in the success and recovery of others. When culling patient stories, include people of various ethnicities, life stages and socioeconomic status. Recovery from a knee replacement surgery will look different for a wealthy retiree than for a parent working a minimum-wage job.

Include a variety of voices sharing their experiences, how the procedures improved their lives and any challenges they faced along the way. A diverse collection of stories may better prepare others considering treatment or surgery for themselves.

Do an identity group review

Before you publish content, you:

  • Edit multiple times
  • Ask stakeholders or subject matter experts to weigh in
  • Do a final quality assurance check

Consider one more step for inclusive healthcare content: Read the content expressly to find audiences you may have left out.

Cross-reference your content with the list below to find blind spots you didn’t represent in the content. This list, from The University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is not exhaustive, but it’s an excellent start.

Social identity groups:

  • Ability (people with and without disabilities)
  • Age
  • Class (low/working class or middle/owning class)
  • Education level (people with and without a degree)
  • Language
  • Racial groups and ethnicities
  • Religion

Citizen identity groups:

  • Military service
  • Immigrant status 

Gender and sexuality groups:

  • Gender (women, men, transgender, nonbinary)
  • Sexual orientation (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual)

Each Step We Take to Reach Create Inclusive Healthcare Content Helps

Disparities in healthcare treatment and communication is a longstanding problem. We’re not going to solve it overnight. But every time we shine a light on the issue and take action to remedy it, we are contributing to improvement.

Every time we shine a light on disparities in healthcare content & take action to remedy it, we are contributing to improvement. #hcmktg Click To Tweet

Here at Aha Media, we are committed to getting better and learning more every day. Do you have tips or suggestions we didn’t include in this post? We’d love to hear them. Tweet us at @ahamediagroup or send us an email.

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