To work in health communication, you need both detailed knowledge about health care and marketing and the ability to manage a variety of editorial and writing tasks.
Whether you’re starting out in health communication or considering a shift from another type of medical communication or medical writing, these tips can help you succeed.
- Know the audience. With health communication writing, the audience is likely the public and not a professional or regulatory agency. You could be reaching out to a broad range of people with content that has to do many things at once—attract, engage, educate, and elicit action. It’s important to be able to break down complicated material in a way that resonates with members of the public. Creating “personas” for each audience segment can help ensure you are reaching the right people with the right messaging.
If you’re a freelance medical writer, you may be tasked with having to quickly shift between projects. This requires the ability to be flexible in changing brand voices or adapting to different mediums and client goals. For each project, take a few minutes to review the client’s website and brand materials before you begin to write.
- Be prepared to edit. Health communication writing also often calls for reworking content into new forms versus developing new content. For example, specialists may be charged with combining content from multiple websites, refreshing existing copy, or pulling from academic research to produce a press release. This requires sharp editorial skills to watch for redundancies, to catch discrepancies in tone or voice, and to avoid mistakes. Working with a team or partnering with a colleague to peer‑edit projects can be a helpful strategy.
- Understand SEO. If you write Web content, it may be important to understand search engine optimization, or SEO. Your client may ask you to include specific keywords in the content, and these need to fit the flow of the writing rather than appearing awkward or forced. You may also be asked to join in discussions of how individual Web pages are performing or to write on specific topics that garner a lot of user interest. If you write a lot of Web content, a good working knowledge of how Web content differs from printed content is a must.
- Write for mobile and tech minds. Another strategy for succeeding as a health communication specialist is to recognize that readers are getting more technologically inclined. Many users view health content on smartphones and mobile apps. With this in mind, it’s important to consider how your readers find and digest content, and to make sure it's easy to view on mobile devices.
- Listen closely. Finally, a key to success in health communication is to listen closely and pay attention to details. As a form of medical writing, health communication requires accuracy and precision. Missed words or wrong phrasing can drastically alter meaning and can have serious consequences. When talking to a subject matter expert, take comprehensive notes or, even better, record conversations and phone calls. This allows you to double‑check information and to make sure you heard everything correctly. Ask follow‑up questions and highlight details that require confirmation. Also, keep proofreading skills up to par. Slow down, revisit initial outlines, and carefully review finished products.
Health communication writing is an important skill, and the demand for experienced specialists will only continue to grow as society becomes more high‑tech and more information is conveyed digitally. A solid understanding of the many aspects of health communication can help specialists succeed in their positions and advance this evolving area of medical communication.