How I Write Patient-Centred Medical Articles 

newborn baby held aloft by male hands

How I Write Patient-Centred Medical Articles 

Simple sentences, storytelling, and tools like Canva help

Last year, I started writing online patient-facing health articles for a medical centre. I’ve covered everything from multiple sclerosis, bowel cancer, ovarian cancer, vision problems, and epilepsy.

The articles link to a calendar with all the state’s health awareness days and events. The key ‘awareness day’ gets its own article.

The aim was to build a bridge to the patient, providing trustworthy information, and bypassing the risks of ‘Dr Google’ and medical misinformation. Tricky, given that nearly one-third of Australians use Google to self-diagnose medical conditions. Yikes!

It also had to be patient-centred. This meant articles had to be easy to understand, accurate, and unique.

What does patient-centred mean?

Patient-centered means treating patients as individuals and as equal partners in the business of healing.

Being patient-centred has been the gold standard in providing patient care for several years. The concept came about when the costs of health care skyrocketed in the United States, without any improvement in health outcomes.

Patient-centered communication meets the literacy, age, and cultural needs of the patient. That way, they can understand and be engaged with treatments, use resources, and adhere to recommendations.

When patients are empowered to make decisions, their health outcomes improve. Studies have shown that engaging patients improves the quality of care.

I was shocked to discover how many adults are needle-phobic. It’s about 40 percent. I mean, nobody wants to get a needle, but 10% of adults actively avoid going to the doctor because they are so worried about it.

So here is a problem to solve. Build trust with patients, educate them about things to look out for, give them confidence to engage a doctor, and empower them to follow medical advice.

Speak to the person, not the patient

This is how I do it. For every medical condition, I ask how would you feel if that was for me? If you had that illness or condition?

The tone should be like a friendly stranger at a barbecue. They aren’t patronising, they also have diabetes, and they’re about the same age. It absolutely has to be clear. Crystal clear. And accurate.

A checklist of essential elements

1. Is it easy to understand? 

Good medical writing should be easy to understand for any reading level. Literacy levels are low across the board in the West, so we need to be as precise and clear as possible.

Even doctors like simple, clear sentences. Keep sentences short and simple.

2. Tell a story.

If you can tell a relatable story from a patient’s point of view, you can create a gentle entry into the world of that illness.

From there, you can ladder up to the wide shot of the global prevalence and statistics. Science is always fascinating when you dig a little. Epilepsy turns out to be the oldest recorded condition back to 4000 BCE.

3. Find a metaphor or analogy.

People think in pictures so that can help people clarify things in their minds. Paint a compelling word picture.

ChatGPT can be useful if you prompt it appropriately. Ask it to provide the analogy. Weed out the clichés and triple-check anything it spits out.

4. Help them feel like they’re in good company.

Another way of saying ‘you’re not alone’, which isn’t so trite, is to say who else has the same condition. Often there are some surprising people.

Celebrity patients have been shown to increase patient engagement. It demonstrates that diseases do not discriminateElton John, Neil Young, and actor Hugo Weaving have helped normalise the condition.

I found out recently that Julius Caesar, the Roman commander, had epilepsy. Think I used that? You betcha!

5. Choose a relevant image

A lot is communicated with an image, so if you can only choose one, make it unique and not boring. Canva has emerged as a treasure trove of photos, graphics, stock videos, and so many assets, even medical animations.

There are many things available for free, but the Paid choice isn’t expensive and widens your range. Focus on the potential of the person, or their self-image, not what they look like when they are sick. That feeds stigma.

In many cases, you may be dealing with readers of low literacy. It may be easier to show a video or an animation. As writers, we can craft the script.

6. Link back to quality sources and community

Let people know where they can get more medical support, questions answered, or find other people. Help people find community.

I found an incredible Facebook group of young people with diabetes a few years back. The way they wrote flew off the page. It was totally different from the sterile and clinical environments they talked about.

7. Provide hope

There isn’t a medical condition in the world that is hope-less.

Even the behemoth, HIV, is soon set to be virtually eliminated in Sydney. Although cures are rare, there are always clinical trials, researchers making discoveries, and improvements in survival rates.

There is always something hopeful you can provide, no matter how small it may be. We can always stand out in a sea of negativity with hope. Remember to finish on a bright note.

In summary

So there you have it. Medical writing is precise, accurate, and patient-centered. It should be positive and help people feel better, not just understand better.

Metaphors and analogies help show people what you mean.

Try to have a distinctive or original take on the subject as well. This will help your piece of medical communication stand out against the white wallpaper.

Provide links to where they can go next on their patient journey. Answer their questions and lead them to their tribe.

Last of all, always provide hope. There’s not a medical condition in the world that doesn’t have hope. Whether it’s through new technology or research trials underway, leave people with a sense that tomorrow may be better.