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I’ve Never Read My Doctor’s Newsletter. Here Are The 4 Reasons Why.

I still remember the first time I saw my name on an EOB. It was a bit surreal—seeing myself as one of the people in the system as opposed to one behind the curtain of healthcare. When I ended up in the ED a couple of years ago (not a place I visit often…or ever really), I immediately started thinking of codes and imagining what my claim would look like.

I’m still much less comfortable on the consumer end of the system than anywhere else.

Still though, I understand the importance of keeping up with all my healthcare providers’ news to make sure my tests and bills and appointments are handled properly—yet when my doctor’s newsletter hits my email every month, I skip right past it.

I open more than newsletters than most people. I know how much a good open rate means to me in the ones I write and there’s always something to learn, but somehow, this one, month after month, went straight to the trash. If opened, it didn’t get read. I’m sure most doctors, or anyone who writes a newsletter for that matter, doesn’t have their staff spending time putting a letter together with the intent that it won’t be seen.

Well today I decided to open one up and see what was inside—what I found was the reason I’ve never taken the time to read…Four  reasons actually.

The Subject

The subject line is arguably the most important part of an email. If it’s dull, it won’t get opened. This was the subject:

“Dr. Haldir’s March 2014 Newsletter – Lab Test Bills, Bone Density, Cancer Screening and Exam Calendar.” (Not her actual name by the way.)

In Gmail, I saw only “Dr. Haldir’s March 2014 Newsletter – Lab Test Bills”. Even if I were currently curious about my cancer risk, I wouldn’t have known the email could have been helpful to me.

The solution: Drop the date, and the word “Newsletter”. Nobody cares how often a newsletter comes out, as long as it’s always useful and not annoying. Also, while it’s important to label emails appropriately, your name alone and the subject matter should be enough to distinguish your email as worthy of your readers’ time.

The Graphics

Pictures are important. They draw the eye in and distinguish your content through visual engagement…but there has to be balance. In this case, I had to scroll to get past the header and the large graphic of the first article to even see the first headline. Not a big deal if a patient’s already drawn in by an engaging subject, but if they’re just opening casually for something interesting, the newsletter’s likely to hit the trash. Scrolling can feeling like a major commitment when you’re zipping through emails. Don’t make patients work.

The solution:
 Almost all bulk email services allow you to test an email before it goes out. I send mine to a personal account to get muddled in with the rest of the daily onslaught. If it doesn’t speak to me immediately, things need to change. If the graphics are weird…again, time to do some tweaking.

The Titles

This newsletter is going to patients and the titles should reflect that. So, “Lab Tests – Who pays the bill?” could be better written as “Are you responsible for your lab bills?” A small change, but we’re talking people’s health here, so keeping it personal is important. 

The Language

The newsletter body had 3 articles and the first sentences of each…I just didn’t care. Don’t get me wrong, I cared about the subject itself, but the sentences were worded in such a way that they lead with things that clinicians cared about. For example: The article on the exam calendar started with “Our new site has a great tool you may not know about, and it’s free!”The “free” part is good. Patients care about cost. What they care about more though, isn’t the existence of the tool, but instead what they tool can do for them.

The Solution: The site upgrade made scheduling exams more clear, and a mention of the confusion a patient (just one, since you’re only talking to one in a newsletter) might experience around making appointments, or even the way the tool could make scheduling their visits easier, would have been a better lead in. The other two articles started in similar fashion, largely speaking past the patient.

The worst part of all this, is that it’s a good newsletter. The information was helpful to me and targeted to my concerns. The only problem was getting, and keeping my attention, which is half the battle in this industry.

by Megan Williams

P.S. If you want to get started on improving your newsletter, check out my 5 day course on building newsletters that get results.

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