Most people I know who do medical content writing didn’t start doing this kind of work right out of college. Some came from careers in journalism, medicine, physical therapy (that’s me), and marketing. Others simply brought an English degree and love of writing to the table.
Somewhere along the line, however, they all got a good grasp of the medical ethics and standards they needed to do this kind work well and to be successful.
Medical ethics is a huge and complicated entity, where some of our hardest decisions are rigorously debated. I am not a foremost expert in this field, and you don’t have to be either to produce medical content. But you do have to have a handle on some basic tenets and codes of conduct to do it right and to be successful.
A Unique Audience
Medical content, whether presented in a blog, an article, a condition page, or even a little tweet, can be scarey. It is serious in a way that knitting projects, falafel recipes, and build your own greenhouse plans are NOT.
Many readers of medical content are potential patients or their loved ones. And since you can’t possibly know who exactly will read what you write, to be on the safe side, it’s best to treat them all as if they are. This means employing a certain sensitivity to any fears, misinformation, and vulnerability the reader may be bringing to the table.
Medical content writers who come from a clinical background have the advantage of years of trial and error to find out the most effective ways to communicate with patients. Even so, they often need to tone down the jargon and humanize their writing.
Those writers who come with a background in journalism, on the other hand, may have a bit more of a flare for drama and sensationalism. If you don’t believe that, just watch FOX news for five minutes. This skill can be terrific for enlivening copy, but it can also scare the pants off someone.
Marketers tend to be savvy about the psychology of selling and the techniques that get people to sign on the dotted line. When the product or service is of a medical nature, it is important to measure in the dangers of over-promising and minimizing risk for the sake of a sale.
Read my post, The Three Little Pigs of Medical Copywriting, to learn more.
Social Media Engagement
Content marketing heavily leans on social media, whether via a blog, Twitter, or an ever increasing field of outlets (snapchat, instagram …).
The social nature of these platforms means that the lines between between being a professional and being someone’s friend can get blurry. It is also a little too easy to slip or inadvertently associate yourself with breaches of patient privacy.
The best approach is to understand professional codes of conduct and to apply these as best you can. Many professional medical associations have issued social media guidelines that are publicly available, so you can do just that.
I have written a whole lot more about this and have a list of resources you can use in my post Don’t Blow it on Social Media: Resources for Healthcare Professionals.
A Note on Language
Misconstrued language in medical content writing can get patients hopes up too high and it can lead to harm–and law suites. Law suits in medicine are a fact of life and the insurance premiums that clinicians have to pay are proof of that. For that reason, it is a good idea to watch out for wording that could be over-promising or misunderstood.
You don’t want to create a situation where a patient comes in and says they tried grape seed oil on their staff infection because THAT is what you told them to do in your last blog, and now they need their leg amputated.
OK, so that is kind of an exaggeration, but my point is that harming a patient (or getting sued by one) can come down to the difference between using words like, can and may, instead of absolutes like will and always. So, take care.
Read my post, How to Blog Like a Person: 4 tips for Doctors, to learn more.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is where the ethical rubber meets the legal road. This piece of legislation has taken what may have been a list of ethical standards and turned them into legal statutes that can get you into serious trouble if ignored. I am talking about huge fines and even loss of license.
Of particular importance in medical content writing is observance of HIPAA’s patient privacy laws. What this translates to most often in medical content writing is making sure to have a legally drawn up set of consent forms.
Before you share one word about any patient case, whether you mention their name or not, you need these forms signed.
Read more in my post, MedBlog Writers–Read this Before You Interview Your Next Patient.
We all want to be good at our jobs and to do this in medical content writing it is imperative that you know and abide by these basic ethical and legal constructs. I encourage you to think about these issues and research them further. At the very least, go to the HIPAA website and read about the laws before you even think about writing medical content.
This is serious business.
Basics of Content Marketing for Medical Practices Part 1: What is Content Marketing?
Basics of Content Marketing for Medical Practices Part 2: Why Use Content Marketing for Medical Practices?
Basics of Content Marketing for Medical Practices Part 3: Bare Bones Approach to Content Strategy
Basics of Content Marketing for Medical Practices Part 4: Copywriting: Not Just for Selling Bananas
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