Think about your favorite book. It probably kept you turning page after page because it had an engaging storyline, a relatable character, or a situation that resonated in some way with your personal life. Authors tell a story. Yet as healthcare communicators, the story is often removed and what’s left is information. The healthcare industry, however, faces an extraordinary challenge. A Health Affairs study showed that most Americans do not understand basic health insurance terminology. Bridging the gap between information and engagement is a critical piece of health literacy communication.
Consumers crave health literacy
According to the 2017 International Public Sector Survey, consumers stated the most important area for clear communication was health. And it’s not surprising. UnitedHealthcare’s recent Consumer Sentiment Survey found that only 9 percent of the U.S. population understood the top four basic health insurance terms (premium, deductible, out-of-pocket-maximum and co-insurance).
How can we as healthcare communicators connect, tell a story and engage our readers to understand health content? How can we deliver on the demand of health literacy? We need to take off our writer’s hats for a moment and we need to be human.
The science behind a story
Situational storytelling has impact on the reader. If you can share information by way of a story, scenario or an example, readers can place themselves into your storyline and connect to the content on a personal level. It’s science. The neural coupling enables our brains to translate a story into our own world and experience. In other words, relatability. When that happens, our brains process information as emotion which has a significantly higher rate of retention and engagement. Simply put: you appeal to the reader as a person instead of as a customer.
Storytelling quick tips:
- Use words and phrases that convey empathy
- Provide situations and examples the reader can relate to or will experience
- Personalize the experience with pronouns such as “your doctor” instead of “the doctor”
- Write like you’d talk to someone about this experience
- Writing in an informal tone can be welcoming, so cut back on the big words, jargon and complexity
A picture is worth… 60 words. Not exactly, but our brains process images 60 times faster than they do words. Selecting images and graphics for healthcare communication is just as important as the written words. Images lead to better information retention and engagement. Images help place your reader into your storyline.
One of the best descriptions I’ve heard about writing for healthcare was, “Have a conversation on paper. Write like you’re talking to your friend or grandmother about the topic. How would that conversation differ from what you’d actually put down on paper?” For me, it’s the human difference.
About the author: Alissa Gavrilescu is the Director of Marketing at Solstice Benefits, Inc. and is a board member at the Center for Plain Language. She’s a health literacy champion, an avid Gators fan and a Photoshop nerd with a penchant for swanky typography.