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Crafting a healthy narrative: Best practices in healthcare communication

January 29, 2024

Understanding the necessity of healthcare isn’t a heavy lift—but navigating best practices concerning healthcare advertising can be a bigger mountain to climb. 

The challenge in creating healthcare advertising is to develop impactful messages to cut through the unnecessary jargon and reach current and prospective patients, providers, and/or payors—all while complying with the federal and state regulations relating to healthcare communications. Managing the latter can be tricky, as it can take time to master ways of weaving your desired verbiage through the sometimes-lengthy restrictions and statutes provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The good news: There is plenty of direction available for those taking their first steps into the practice. Along with many online resources and blogs that share more user-friendly guidance for avoiding legal issues in healthcare advertising, there are a few overarching tips to reference when drafting any and all healthcare copy. As an agency that works with a variety of significant healthcare clients, here are five that guide our team’s ongoing efforts. 

Do not mislead patients

Dubious claims may now be mainstream in the advertising world of many health-adjacent sectors, but misleading or deceitful language is strictly forbidden in all medical advertising. This includes language that would cause a reasonable person to misunderstand a statement or be deceived. Make your messaging honest and transparent to avoid any confusion, even if unintentional.

Be wary of superlatives—unless you can prove them

Without data to support a claim, healthcare advertisers cannot claim superiority. This means using statements like “our doctors are the best” is not allowed. However, messaging can make statements like “many of our physicians have been named to the U.S. News Media Group’s ‘Top Doctors’ list,” or mention awards and other accolades.

Do not make promises when describing procedures or results

Messaging must detail medical procedures, surgeries, and other experiences factually and without exaggeration—even if they are not meant to be taken literally. For example, instead of writing a line like, “We will make this as painless as possible,” try “Our compassionate and caring team members can offer effective options for managing pain” instead. The former is promissory; the latter merely offers a possibility. 

Avoid scientific claims without reliable studies and research

Valid, peer-reviewed data provides sound information for communicative messaging, and builds trust between healthcare providers and patients. It’s a great tool to utilize, but it’s also required to be evidence-based. Healthcare providers are required to offer truthful information when making healthcare recommendations to their patients, so a hospital or healthcare system should never claim results for patients that cannot be scientifically proven.

Do not share patient information without informed consent

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (more commonly known as HIPAA) is one of the most well-known pieces of legislation in healthcare. HIPAA establishes parameters designed to keep patients’ personal medical details private and safe—but the law also extends to healthcare marketing. All messaging must remain compliant with all HIPAA regulations. If a marketing message or advertisement features actual patients and/or their testimonials, be sure to get written permission from each person or their caregiver before using their image or information.

Want to learn more about The Martin Group’s work within multiple facets of healthcare? Click here.

Kelli Putney

Vice President | Senior Healthcare Advisor

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