It's been said that the strongest human relationship in society
isn't between husband and wife or even mother and child. It's
grandparent and grandchild. Why? Because they share a common
I write this because of the important lesson it holds for you,
the leaders of American healthcare delivery. Your patients hate the
"healthcare system" because it treats them "like a number." But
they respect and cherish the "sacred doctor-patient relationship"
and any healthcare system that treats them "like a human
Yes, words matter - and when it comes to healthcare delivery,
words matter a lot. It's time you started individualizing,
personalizing and humanizing what you say and do. You can start by
speaking the language of your patients.
Researching and articulating the right language approach is what
we do at The Word Doctors. And after a decade of patient research,
many dozens of dial sessions, and literally hundreds of thousands
of healthcare-related interviews, we can tell you that for the
most part, most of you are getting it... wrong. It doesn't have to
be that way. There is a way for you to connect with patients
in a way that motivates them to put their faith -- and their health
-- in your hands (and, of course, their business in your
portfolio). There is a way to set yourself apart from the rest of
the people in your field who still get it wrong.
Start by sharing a common mission of "achieving a
patient-centered approach to healthcare." That vision, more than
anything else in all of our polling experience, captures the hearts
and minds of patients across America.
Here are three additional communication rules you can use to
better connect with your patients today:
1. Put people, and care, back in your message. Stop
calling them "consumers," "customers," or "clients." From now on
they are "people," "individuals," and "patients." In the same way,
stop talking about "improving the healthcare system" when people
know that a "system" screams getting lost in a maze of bureaucracy.
Instead, focus simply on "improving care" or "improving health."
After all, that's what medicine is supposed to be about, right?
2. There's no end to how much support there is for "wellness"
and "prevention." The overwhelming majority of healthcare
dollars are spent on treating illness after it sets in. You already
know that. But what you may not know, and our research reveals, is
Americans believe the best approach to healthcare includes a
"balance between preventive and curative healthcare." Americans
want to stop health problems before they start, to prevent even
higher costs down the road and preserve a higher quality of life
for as long as they can. Does your language match their
3. Healthcare public enemies #1 and #2 are excessive "profits"
and "bureaucracy." Understand that in today's anti-business,
anti-Wall Street environment, "profit" is a four-letter word. And
because of what Washington has done with the healthcare debate so
far, "reform" has come to represent "a government takeover" of
patient care with more bureaucracy and less quality. That's why you
need to talk about "reinvesting in patient care" and "preventing
ANYONE from getting between a physician and a patient."
There are other specific language recommendations to apply:
- Focus on "cures," not treatment.
- It's "accountability" rather than "transparency."
- Use "peace of mind" (particularly among women) rather than
There is so much more - and all of it matters. We have worked
with enough healthcare professionals to know that you didn't enter
the profession to make a dollar. You signed up to make a
difference. You never set out to be a bureaucrat. You worked your
whole life to be a healer.
The problem is... unless and until you start sharing your
calling in a way that actually resonates with the people you serve,
you'll always be just another part of the dreaded "system." If you
don't make an emotional connection, you won't make a commercial
impact. So today... right now... right NOW... find ways to tell
patients that they are why you do what you do.
Frank Luntz is an author, pollster and communications
specialist. His latest book is What Americans Really