You know that moment when you are talking to a patient, and you see their eyes glaze over, and you realize you just said the words hemoglobin or pneumococcal or fasciitis? Unfortunately, healthcare literacy isn’t always as high as we’d like it to be.
Now, your patients generally aren’t rude, so they won’t just get up and walk out. They will sit politely, hoping you will further explain what you mean.
Doctor blogs are another story.
If your blog post gets boring or bogged down in words they don’t understand, your patients (or prospective patients) will stop reading. They will walk away without the golden pearls of wisdom you had crafted for them.
So, hang up your lab coat, put that sphygmomanometer down, and write like a regular person.
As a doctor, you do a lot of writing: Chart writing (dictating=same thing). Research paper writing. Case-study writing. You are probably really good at it too, but peer to peer writing in the medical world does not translate into effective blogging. You have to make a shift, and here are four ways to help you do that.
1. Cut the Jargon
The longer you have been in medicine, the more likely it is that you think it is normal to use words like perseverate—it isn’t. It can be hard to roll back the years and remember that once upon a time you didn’t know all this jargon. But you can do it. Remember: lower right quadrant is just the bottom right part of your belly and distal phalange is just the tip of your finger.
2. Get Away from the Passive Voice
Clinical writing is very passive in tone. In this litigious medical climate, it has the benefit of blaming no one for no action taken. But, the passive voice is also distancing, flaccid, and a terrific way to lose your reader. Here is an example of the passive voice: “The test results have been reviewed, and a brain tumor has been ruled out.” Using the active voice, you would say, “Doctor X ruled out a brain tumor after reviewing the test results.”
3. Use the Words “You” and “I”
These words seem to be anathema in clinical writing, but they are the best words to engage your blog reader. The casualness and person-ability of these words will bring people in. They want to know what YOU think, and they will trust you more because you are taking responsibility for the content in your blog post.
4. Explain Hard Science using Metaphors
This is my favorite. Metaphors and similes are fun and they save time and word-count.
It probably took you a long time to master your understanding of immunology. You sat through a lot of lectures, read papers, reviewed slides, and nosed through many medical books. You could write a thesis on the white blood cell—but no one would read it. Instead, write about how the white blood cell is a soldier in the battle against a foreign invader or use another, less war-related, metaphor if you prefer.
That is not to say you can’t use any jargon. For the words you do keep, just add a sentence or two explaining what the term means. Try it. Your posts will more likely be read to the end, and people will learn something from you. They will also know you are someone they can understand, and they will turn to you for answers.