Article Date: 4/1/2005

Is It Time to Try a New Language?

When communicating with your patients, make sure they understand.

Through newsletters, Web sites, e-mail and direct-mail campaigns, optometrists are reaching out to patients more than ever. That's great news.

Unfortunately, these campaigns don't always connect with readers. Two solutions that experts commonly recommend to practitioners who seek to improve patient education and marketing efforts are:

1. Speak in a language that the patient understands.

2. Remember you are writing for your patient and not your practice.

Is it Greek to them?

The book Business Communication, published by the Harvard Business School Press, suggests simplicity. The book asks the key question, "Are your words part of the reader's vocabulary, or are they the jargon of a small group?"

Here's an example of communications -- a headline from a practice newsletter (the name has been changed): "Anytown Optometry offers corneal reshaping."

You can assume the headline didn't send readers to the practice. Most patients wouldn't recognize the term corneal reshaping.

The opening sentence reads, "Anytown Optometrists offers you the opportunity to experience corneal reshaping, contact lenses that reshape your cornea at night so that you can see clearly during the day without surgery, contact lenses or glasses."

This reads better than the headline, but it opens with the practice name (not the patient benefit) and it explains corneal reshaping in terms that patients might find unfamiliar. We can solve both problems by emphasizing patient value: "Imagine seeing clearly during the day without surgery, contact lenses or glasses!"

Continue with information that patients would logically want to know -- in terms they understand ("special contact lenses safely improve vision while you sleep").

Many uses

Use the patient-friendly approach to promote a new piece of diagnostic equipment, a new line of spectacle lenses or frames, a new service, etc.

To ensure that you write for patients, re-read materials as though you are the patient, say communications experts. Or better yet, enlist a patient to review materials and provide honest, constructive feedback.

In a dynamic profession, marketing opportunities have few limits. Just be aware that while some communications market a product or service, every communication that you send markets your practice and presents the opportunity to build stronger patient relationships.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2005