By Kathy Roy Gaughran
Senior Marketing Strategist
If you were in pain, would you want to see a surgeon? Or would you rather see a board-certified surgeon specializing in a minimally invasive procedure that gets you back to doing what you love? Words matter, and quality copy helps patients to see their experience in your office will be unlike anything they could find elsewhere.
On the other hand, the copywriting in doctor websites, brochures, and other marketing materials could go unexpectedly wrong. The writing may inadvertently discourage people from visiting a practice or hospital. Sometimes, organizations end up paying fines to their boards or even legal fees when their copy makes false promises. Don’t let your copywriting cost you.
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Potential Legal Copywriting Costs
Disclaimer: We are not authorized to give legal advice. Please consult an attorney to review your marketing materials.
Different states and boards have varying requirements for what can and cannot be said in a doctor’s marketing materials. For example, some boards may limit the use of patient testimonials in your ad copy, and most boards are opposed to anything that could put you at legal risk. An example is the use of superlatives.
“Best.” “Fastest.” “Safest.” These are all superlatives: terms that most copywriters have been trained not to use. If you cannot offer proof that you are indeed the “best doctors in New Jersey” or that you provide the “safest treatment options,” avoid these terms altogether.
Rule #1 is that you cannot say it if it isn’t true. Don’t make any promises or offer a cure. And if your copy is written by someone without healthcare expertise, be sure to review it to ensure it doesn’t break any of these rules.
Rule #2: Don’t make any outlandish claims or exaggerations about your qualifications. Be fearful of the word “expert” where a term like “specialist” is more accurate. And check with the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) before listing board certifications.
The Cost of Poor Word Choice
Sometimes, poor choices in copywriting come with a legal cost. Other times, the cost isn’t so direct—but it can take a toll on your business.
The wrong word choices can dissuade people from visiting your office. Copy can go over the lines in terms of people’s ethics or morals. It may not result in legal fines, but you can lose the respect of prospective patients and referring physicians alike.
A universal example is the difference between the terms “unmatched” and “unsurpassed.” The former makes the claim that you’re the best, while the latter says you’re up on top of the mountain with everyone else. While the terms may seem close, it’s a little choice that can change a colleague’s opinion of your organization.
Another is the use of “cutting edge” over “leading edge.” Cutting-edge techniques could, in some cases, bring about the image of knives—yikes. In certain specialties, you want to avoid loaded terms like these.
Then there are the terms that cost you patients simply because the average person has trouble identifying with your message. The lexicon you use in your copy should represent the average patient’s vocabulary. Patients want to feel as if you could explain something in terms they can understand, and that starts with your advertising.
The Cost of Sending the Wrong Message
In general, you want to send a message with your copy that convinces people to choose your organization. However, we read a lot of doctor marketing materials that are far more focused on educating the patient. If your copy includes detailed descriptions of procedures (that your patients may not even know they need yet), your marketing may not be effective.
Think about it this way: do people buy Coca-Cola because it’s made with high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, and phosphoric acid? Of course not. The ingredients are never advertised because, frankly, they’d scare people away. Consumers buy Coca-Cola because it advertises what makes them unique—a classic taste that’s been around for ages.
Your copy doesn’t have to go through every detail of what to expect from a particular procedure. That’s something you explain in the office, after a diagnosis (so you don’t scare anyone off!). Instead, tell patients that they can expect personalized care, a spa-like environment, or an attentive staff…whatever you have to offer!
Is Your Copywriting Costing You?
In our experience, people who don’t work in advertising or marketing tend to focus on details that only make a small difference in your copy. Of course, copy should be free of any major grammatical errors. But in copywriting, some of the old “rules” are meant to be broken.
For example, we include stylistic sentence fragments when it’s a good fit. And we start sentences with “and” and “but.” These are not things you should get caught up with when evaluating your copy. If you want to determine if your copy is costing you patients (or a potential battle with the boards), ask yourself these questions:
- Have you checked with your boards and/or an attorney to understand the limitations on word choice within your advertising?
- Does your copy use the word “you” liberally? (“You will feel relief” is much more identifiable than “patients feel relief.”)
- Do you offer something unique to draw patients to your office?
- Do you include calls-to-action throughout your copy so people know what step to take next? (Ex. Book a Consultation; Fill Out Our Form; Call Now)
- Does your copy use the common lexicon and appeal to people’s sensibilities in your region?
- Are your credentials stated accurately to the best of your knowledge?
So don’t let your copywriting cost you—for any reason. Your best bet is to work with medical copywriters to ensure both accuracy and quality advertising that gets patients to call you. For more information, call Healthcare Success at 800-656-0907.