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  • Writer's pictureJennifer (Davis) Roush

The peculiar task of writing high-science ads for an audience without a medical degree

In 2019, more people than ever before are researching health-related subjects online. An estimated 80% of internet users (that's 93 MILLION people) are googling their symptoms and health concerns before ever seeing a doctor. 34% of those searches are about prescription and over the counter drugs, which means pharmaceutical companies are targeting patients online with banner ads, websites, e-mails, and beyond.

It may seem simple enough to target patients if you're advertising something like cold medicine, but when it comes to more high-science medications, it can be difficult to find a voice for your brand that is intelligent, yet not intimidating.

I've written pharma advertising for over a decade now and I still find targeting patients to be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. It can be easy to regurgitate study findings to a physician, even without a medical degree. But to take that same data and make it into something someone with a high school education could understand? Now that's a little more complicated. So here are some steps I have found useful in my career when talking to patients:

1. Know your audience

Are you talking to the patient or the caregiver? Are they typically male or female? What's their average age? All of these questions are important to know before you start writing any piece of content for patients. Your tone and breadth should adapt with each audience so that it is customized to fit who you're speaking to. For example, someone suffering with a long-term chronic condition may be more educated in their condition and have been through multiple treatment options in the past. You may not need to provide such detailed information as you would for someone with an acute condition. If you're speaking to patients with an eye condition you may want to consider using larger type on the screen and being sensitive to the fact they may be taking multiple medications. When you know your audience you can more easily customize the content so that the reader feels like you're talking directly to them.

2. Know when to educate

If your brand is targeting new patients, chances are you're going to have to educate the reader on not just the brand, but the disease too. And the more useful information you provide on your website, the more likely patients will return to the site again. It can be pretty obvious sometimes when a brand is only giving enough information to sell their product, but when they take the time to educate their audience, it can make an impact on the reader. It's also important to not disregard your patient's intelligence and experience if your brand is targeting those who have suffered long-term with their disease. For example, if your brand is the 3rd line treatment for stage 4 cancer, chances are your patient is already familiar with the impacts of their disease and won't need page after page explaining different types of cancer to them.

3. Speak simply

Regardless of the reader's education level, it is still always a good idea to make sure you don't over complicate your content when speaking to patients. Typically, I have been told that staying within a 3rd grade level is best, but for some of the more high-science brands, 6th grade may be more of an obtainable goal. I use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test on all of my patient content, which can typically be found in the proofing menu of Microsoft Word. The test uses a formula that counts the amount of syllables in each word and average sentence length to determine what grade level your content is currently reading at. It's a useful tool to help you tone down any heavy medical terms and jargon. (This article reads at a 10th grade level!)

4. Don't overdo it on the data

When it comes to data, keep it simple. Imagine going to a website and immediately seeing 3 bar graphs when all you want to know is if it works and if it's safe. You also don't want to have blocks of paragraphs that patients most likely won't ever read. Instead, consider infographics and animations that can help tell your data story, without burdening the patients with complicated numbers they may not understand.

My favorite part of my job is knowing that I am helping people by not selling them a car or diet soda, but providing information about medicines that could one day save their lives. With these 4 helpful steps, I hope that we can help more patients understand their conditions and medications so that they and their doctors can make more informed decisions about their health.



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