Use this basic article structure to save time and energy when you sit down to write your next patient-education article for your practice's website.
As physicians passionate about educating our patients and promoting our practices, we have to live in the constant tension of working IN our business (seeing patients) and working ON the business (promoting the practice).
It helps to “templatize” and systematize as much of the promotion side of our business as possible to save time and energy.
Toward that end, in this article I’ll show you a simple article structure you can start using for any clinical topic you want to write an article about.
Consider this: If you don’t create your own patient-education information, your patients will get it from generic, mediocre, or faulty sources. Even if you just rewrite existing patient-education material, it’s better than leaving your patients to fend for themselves. What’s worse, they’ll be armed with bad information that you’ll have to correct if they can’t find the truth (your material) online.
Imagine being able to circumvent and prevent all that: You can accomplish this by producing a complete educational picture of what you do. Plus you get all the side benefits of being seen as an expert in your field and having throngs of pre-educated patients coming in the door.
Before getting started, consider your pre-writing thought process and organization. I’ve found that it’s immeasurably easier to write according to pre-made templates and structures. After you’ve created a list of topics to write about and deciding on a regular schedule for writing, use my generic formula as a skeleton - don’t start by staring at a blank page.
Also, get it out of your mind that patients will "discover" that your articles have the same structure. You can vary the subheadings and text enough to avoid this perception. Plus, patients looking for hernia information won’t read your colonoscopy article too; they’re hunting for very specific information in most cases.
A Simple Template for Writing a Generic Patient-Education Article
Each number is a subhead within the article. Basic articles don’t need to be longer than 400-500 words:
1. What is [the condition you’re discussing]? (For example, ‘What is Hypertension?’)
Now, write a few sentences about the word itself, including other lay terms for the word, and describe the anatomy involved or even link the term to a news story or something patients are familiar with from popular culture.
2. What are the Signs/Symptoms of [the condition]? (For example, ‘What are the Signs/Symptoms of Trigger Finger?’)?
Describe what the patient will feel or see. Is there pain with the condition? Does the patient feel something abnormal or just see something abnormal? Are there some misconceptions about the symptoms that should be cleared up? Are any particular symptoms more ominous than others?
3. How is [the condition] diagnosed?
For this section, describe how doctors diagnose this problem. What are the typical history and physical exam findings? More importantly, what can a patient expect? Imaging, blood work, diagnostic surgery, or invasive procedures? Are the tests done on site or is another appointment required? How long will patients have to wait for results?
4. How is [the condition] treated?
Describe both conservative and aggressive treatment options. What are the pros and cons of each method of treatment? Describe the typical or likely outcome in most cases. Describe what patients can expect during a procedure, during the course of treatment, and what the total recovery time will be.
One easy way to add more detail in this section is to discuss what will happen if patients ignore your advice or don’t get definitive treatment.
How to Put Your Patient-Education Article to Work for You
Use layperson language whenever possible in your writing. Patients really don’t care about being 100 percent accurate with their terminology, and it’s a battle you can’t win anyway.
Notice a theme in each of the sections above, and use the patient perspective to inspire your writing.
Think about what the patient is feeling or what they’ll be frustrated by during the process. Address those concerns and you’ll connect more deeply with your readers.
Finally, ask or tell the reader to do something at the end of the article. This is a call to action, or CTA. It’s a marketing term that answers the question, “Now what?”
Tell the patient what to do next; for example, call the office for an appointment, download a free guide to their condition or disease, or just read another article?
When you get more sophisticated with your website, you can track which articles are getting the most attention and which ones never get read.
Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.