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Writing articles that educate patients doesn’t have to be dull and dreary. Here are four ways to make them fun to write and more helpful for patients.
Coming up with ideas for your blog or patient education section of your website can be a chore. I’ve written another blog post about using a formula to do this.
Another way of creatively leveraging your patients is to let them create the topics and content of your articles.
Your existing patients are idea-generating engines. If you take time to listen, most of this work will be done for you.
See each patient visit as a window - a front row seat even - letting you see what they really want to know. Ninety-five percent of the time, your other patients are wondering the same thing.
As you study these styles, you'll see some overlap between categories. That's OK; there are no rules here. You're allowed to combine one method or style with another.
1. "How to" style
Your objective is to tell patients how to know or do something.
This type of article can be structured in a step-by-step format or involve describing three phases of a diagnostic test.
Examples of things patients want to know about include:
• How do doctors diagnose diabetes?
• How can I tell if I have ________?
• How do I decide whether to bring my child to the office?
• How do you fix a hernia?
You can quickly see how complex these types of articles can get. Add pictures, diagrams, videos, or other illustrations. If you draw pictures for patients in the office, draw those same sketches and scan them in (or photograph them with your iPhone) and upload them to your website.
Strike a balance between giving specific medical textbook-style instructions and providing basic education.
Listen to what questions your patients ask in the office this week; and they are asking these types of questions already. Transform them into short, useful articles that all your potential patients would find valuable.
2. Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) style
Again, the perfect source of ideas for this article type is your patients. What questions do they ask all the time?
Sometimes it's those questions that you tire of answering. Other questions are asked occasionally but you wish more patients would discuss that issue.
Fight the urge to create a list of questions you wish patients would ask. Focus on the basic issues new patients are curious about, even if you tend to gloss over it in the office or let your staff handle it. Now's your chance to take your time and elaborate on the answers without getting frustrated.
Remember one of the principle objectives of producing these articles is to pre-educate your patients. The more deeply you address their concerns and educate them before their visit, the less time and energy you'll both spend later.
3. Mistakes style
What mistakes do you see patients making? Think of frustrating episodes at your medical practice when you were at your wit's end with a patient over some foolish decision they made.
Channel that frustration into educating your potential and existing patients on what mistakes to avoid and why.
• Three serious mistakes patients make when checking their sugar
• Mistakes parents make when talking to their child about surgery
• Don't make these mistakes when preparing for your colonoscopy
4. The story style
Finally, create an educational article built around a real or theoretical patient story. To avoid possible HIPAA violations, do not use patients’ real names or any other specific details that could identify them to others. Using amalgams of patients for one story is a good way to avoid this.
Start out introducing the patient:
"Sue was a 45-year-old mother of two who started having chest pain…"
Give a quick summary of the case (using patient-friendly words and language) and discuss some bullet points you think would be helpful for patients to know.
Here's where you can combine all these methods into one.
Include how you made a diagnosis, a question patients ask about a condition in the story, and briefly discuss how to avoid mistakes patients sometimes make in the same situation.
Using the above four idea-creating categories you should never have to worry about writing a boring textbook-style patient education article or blog post again.