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As different states, and even counties, experience fluctuations in COVID-19 cases, it’s important for dermatology practices to be incredibly flexible in how they reach out to patients. Patients want and need regular communication from their healthcare provider. Strong patient/provider communication is vital regardless of COVID-19, but the pandemic has only increased its importance. However, poorly executed communication can also have a downside—if it’s not done right, patients may simply skim over important information or ignore it altogether. Here are some of the dos and don’ts of communicating with patients during COVID-19.

1. DO send valuable information. Don’t send communication just for the sake of marking it complete on a to-do checklist. Patients will see that your messages are not worth their time and stop reading. Unfortunately, this means that when you do send critical information, they may miss it. Be sure to review all communication, whether it comes via email, text message, or regular mail, and ensure it all contains value to your patients.

2. DO target messages to specific groups. A great way to make sure you’re sending valuable information is to create groups of people with common conditions. This can be done for both email and text messages. You can separate out your list to include only those patients who have been diagnosed with a specific condition. Eczema is a great example of a condition that requires a lot of patient education and communication. So create a list of patients who have eczema. Then send to this list information specific to the condition. This makes it much more likely that patients will read (and appreciate!) the information you send them.

3. DO be consistent. Humans like order. We like to know what to expect. Leverage this by sending communication in a consistent, regular cadence. Patients will know to expect a newsletter once per month or an appointment reminder one week prior to the visit. You can also create consistency in the content you include. For example, you could share updated information on COVID-19 in the same place in a newsletter each time.

4. DON’T use lots of big words. When writing, we tend to use a more complex level of language than we do when speaking. Add to this the fact that there are lots of technical terms related to the dermatology industry, and communication can quickly become boring and difficult to understand. To combat this, review everything you send and ask yourself, “Could a fourth grader understand this?” Then see if you can find four or five ways to make the message more simple and clear.

5. DON’T be long-winded. While it is tempting to share tons of great information with your patient, if you make your communication too long, it is likely that patients will simply skim over it or not even read it at all. Best practices show that you shouldn’t include more than about 200 words or 20 lines of text in an email. If you do have more information you want to communicate, include links back to your website to read more.

6. DON’T use large blocks of text. When creating an email or newsletter, be sure to include lots of white space. Large paragraphs of text are likely to be ignored. You can break up your text with bullet points and shorter sentences.

Look at the following two examples about eczema. Notice how the first one uses complex terms, is longer than necessary, and blocks the text into a single big chunk. The second example conveys the same basic information, but in a much more easily digestible way:

Example 1:
Eczema is a common skin condition that makes your skin red and itchy. Some symptoms of eczema include dry skin, itching (especially at night), red patches on your hands feet, ankles, neck, chest, eyelids, elbows, knees, face and scalp, small raised bumps that may leak fluid, thick, cracked or scaly skin, and sensitive or swollen skin. Eczema is common in children but can occur at any age. Atopic dermatitis is chronic and tends to flare periodically. There is no cure, but there are ways to address symptoms.

Example 2:
Wondering if you might have eczema? If so, look for:

  • Dry, itchy skin (especially at night)
  • Red patches
  • Small raised bumps that may leak fluid
  • Thick or cracked skin
  • Swollen or sensitive skin

Click here to learn how to keep symptoms at bay or set up an appointment here.

Both examples contain critical pieces of information about the condition, but the second one is much easier to read. There is a good chance that your patients won’t even pay attention to the first example. Communication with patients is part of the foundation of a strong practice. By honing these skills, you make it more likely patients will engage with you, improve their health, and feel satisfied with their care.

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