How is content strategy for health organizations different?

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May 9, 2019
Topics covered in this article:

First published February 16, 2018. Updated May 2020.

Communications for Their Health

Health content strategy

Pharmaceutical, medical device, healthcare systems … they are all designed to help people live better lives, while staying fiscally healthy themselves.

Since the global pandemic of 2019-2020, this has been more important than ever.

So while some health companies have become derailed, for example, those that provided options for elective surgery for pain relief, others have redirected or refocused their efforts.

A Delicate Balance of Needs

Companies and their content professionals must strive to balance the needs of the patient with the needs of the organization in their health content strategy, no matter what the world situation is. The more patient-centric the organization's mission, the easier it is to provide value to those people who need it most.  

That said, content strategy for health and healthcare organizations isn’t that much different from other business-, consumer- or student-focused entities. The audience comes first. We all know it, yet rarely do we see it practiced in the wild.  

This is all about to change.

After supporting a variety of health-related companies over the last 18 years and working with dozens and dozens of web and health writers, here are a few things to keep in mind while creating healthcare messaging for the public.

Health Content Strategy Tips for Healthcare Organizations

Fight Health Misinformation and Misunderstandings

  • People often hear what they want to; be clear, reiterate. If mis-information or misunderstandings are being circulated, address them ASAP.
  • Health information can be scary or uncomfortable or extremely complicated. Usually all three, especially when you consider the lifestyle and habits of the patient. Providing information in different ways at different times helps understanding and retention.
  • Bring your experience, but assume nothing. What you learned was true working with your last medical or health client/partner may not be true with this next project.
  • Fact check and double check everything. Use primary sources. Cite them.
  • A press release is not a primary source. You know this. It’s a launching ground for more research.
  • What you learned from primary sources last year (or even last month) may have been disproved or challenged with a more recent study.

Context Is Everything in Health and Life

  • What is happening in the world, in the patients' local community, in their homes, that might influence how they receive or perceive information?
  • Branded and unbranded healthcare information is treated differently. You may have more legal freedom with unbranded, but integrity and clarity are still extremely important.
  • Where or how will this health content be presented? By phone, one-on-one, in a group, on video, in a printed brochure, in an email, behind a firewall, on a public-facing website: all of these delivery methods require a different content approach.
  • Just because you have the ability to personalize does not mean you always should. Patients are often spooked when you know something about their health they didn’t realize you knew (or didn’t know themselves) — like their risk for diabetes or spine problems.

Professional Peer Reviews Are Good for You (and Your Healthcare Content)

  • Consider the legal review process. Each company is different; know what they are looking for ahead of time to save yourself rounds of revision, but don’t let the legal guidelines stifle great content. You can have both.
  • Remember HIPAA.
  • Get a peer review. Writers cannot proof their own work, even the best of the best. Have a researcher or medical professional peer review the content to ensure no errors or clarity issues have slipped in.

Focus on the Patient's Point of View

Yes, you know the company’s goals and project objectives. The ultimate goal? Health information should help people who need it. When reviewing and approving healthcare content, put on your patient hat and do a reality check.

People have different mindsets at different times, which greatly impacts their actions, such as prescription adherence or seeking elective surgery. Here are some examples:

  • Age: A young person who breaks a bone will think of it much differently than someone who’s concerned about osteoporosis or independence.
  • Lifestyle: Someone who is prescribed a treatment, but has an unsupportive family, a substance abuse problem, co-morbidities, or cannot afford the medication, will likely need additional and ongoing support to be successful with a treatment plan.
  • Beliefs: Ignoring a health issue is tempting for many. Disbelief, alternative treatments, culture and religion, language barriers, unlearning misinformation or myth … all of these are challenges that content strategy can help overcome.
  • News and media stories: What people are currently reading or watching in the news, in social media, or from other resources can greatly impact how they evaluate and respond to online content.

Get Professional Health Content Strategy Help

This is a good start; feel free to print this page of health content strategy tips and use it as a checklist for your content team or writer vendors.  

If you need help shaping your health content strategy for your next initiative or product launch — or you’d like to provide your team a content strategy refresher workshop — I’m here for you.

About the Author: Shelly Bowen

Shelly Bowen, content strategist


Shelly Bowen, MFA, is a content writer, content strategist, and founder of Pybop.

Shelly writes for businesses on complex topics from disease prevention and medical devices to alternative energy and leveraging data for the greater good. In her spare time, she hikes, kayaks, and works on her T-Bird.

A wide variety of brands rely on Shelly as an essential freelance writer and content strategy resource.

Follow Shelly on Instagram @pybop or connect on LinkedIn. More about Shelly and Pybop.

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