I decided to do an office email survey with Hailey Sault colleagues in our three offices. We’re a health-focused firm that works with hospitals, providers and technology firms across the country. I can’t tell you how many orthopedics campaigns we’ve produced over the years. Some of our writers are so well-versed in cardiac procedures that they could probably sub in for a procedure in a pinch. I figured I’d get some good responses from my question: What words and phrases would you like to ban in health care marketing?

My colleagues didn’t disappoint.

First, a snapshot of the responses. Then I’ll come back and riff on a few in particular:

THE UNOFFICIAL LIST OF WORDS AND PHRASES WE’D LIKE TO BAN FROM HEALTH CARE MARKETING AND ADVERTISING

  • “Convenient care”
  • “Close to home”
  • “State-of-the-art”
  • “Get Back to the Life You Love”
  • “Comprehensive”
  • “Integrated”
  • “Most Advanced”
  • “Cutting-Edge”
  • “Breakthrough”
  • “Patient-Centered”
  • “Compassionate”
  • “Quality Care”
  • “World Class Care”

Let’s unbuckle a few of these.

“High-Tech/Most Advanced/Cutting-Edge/World Class”

As it turns out, most people assume that a medical provider has technology … even the most advanced technology. Having technology is price of admission. What most people care about is what the provider does with that technology. And most people evaluate their health care experiences based on how the people in the organization made them feel. 

So is the answer to brag on compassionate care?

Not exactly.

“Compassionate Care”

Years ago I came up with a theory about great brands. Great brands don’t tell you they’re great. They avoid using the words they hope to evoke inside of you. In other words, show, don’t tell. I’d much rather have a client demonstrate compassionate care day in and day out, and have that experience evoke the brand feelings than to promote that word in an ad.

“Quality Care”

What does the word “Quality” mean, anyway? Definitions of quality differ for everyone. In health care, quality often refers to a consistent outcome, safety, proven protocols. Like the phrase “high tech,” people assume a medical organization will be of high quality. After all, it’s our lives we’re talking about.

“Comprehensive”

Like “Quality Care,” “Comprehensive” is a word that is nebulous to most health audiences. Do people really evaluate a cardiac program based on how “comprehensive” it is? I’m not sure that’s how people think. I think what’s more true is that a person has a heart need and the physicians do their jobs. I haven’t met a person who carried around a checklist of all the things they expect a provider to offer for a service line.

“Get Back to the Life You Love”

This phrase is most frequently used in promoting surgical services, like orthopedics. It’s a beautiful promise, one that I am sure most, if not all, providers strive to deliver on. But I think we’ve reached the expiration date for this phrase.

“Patient-Centered”

This phrase got popular a few years back. On its face, it’s a beautiful premise: make the patient the center of care. If the phrase helps shape a better culture within an organization, I’m all for it. But we’ve seen that phrase sneak into ads, and that’s when things go side-wise. In health care, like any complex industry, we’re often guilty of breathing our own fumes. We’re immersed in this industry. It’s hard to think like a person who, on average, would prefer never to go into a hospital, unless to meet a new grandchild. “Patient-centered” is one of those industry buzzword phrases that has crept into the public-facing lexicon and that’s why it’s on the banned list.

Which brings me to another word we’re hoping to put on the banned list.

“Patient”

We’ve wrestled with this word for quite some time. My colleague, Denise, wrote a beautiful post about this topic you should read. When we call people patients, we begin the process of stripping them of their humanity. We don’t know a better word (yet), but until then, we’re treading lightly on referring to people as patients in marketing.

The Final Caveat

We’ve used all the words and phrases on the banned list for clients. We’ll probably use a few next week. There are exceptions to the rule, and as with the word “patient,” we’re working in an industry that has done things a certain way for so long that it can be difficult to extract ourselves from the status quo to ask if there’s a better way. This reminds me of the beautiful line from John Maynard Keynes: “The difficulty is not so much in developing new ideas as escaping from the old ones.”

Your turn. Tell us what words and phrases you’d like to see on the banned list.

Bonus Banned Buzzword Read

Awhile back, Laurie and Mardy wrote a great post about overused marketing words. I highly recommend the read. Read it here.