I recently had the chance to interview a former colleague and friend—we’ll call her SH—who has worked in various roles and capacities in healthcare communications. As I expected, she was full of wisdom for writers, editors, and project managers. Here is part 1 of the interview.
HS: You’ve worked as a project manager in various areas of the healthcare industry. How did the types of messaging differ in each?
SH: I’ve worked in a wide variety of health information areas—from continuing health education (CHE) aimed specifically at physicians to general pharmaceutical advertising, patient education, pharmacist communication, and consumer materials. While all of the messages are similar, the delivery to each audience, content development rules, and regulatory processes are all quite different.
Most of my CHE experience involved accredited materials to support physicians in their continuing professional development. Communication pieces of this nature require rigorous review and must follow a formal development process that ultimately ends with the governing accreditation body granting final approval of the CHE materials/program. While my personal opinion is that accredited CHE materials are the most daunting to develop, pharmacist and patient/consumer materials have their own levels of complexity and also require final approval from their respective governing bodies.
Consider the topic quitting smoking with the three sample audiences: physicians, pharmacists, and patients. While the message is essentially the same, “smoking is bad for you,” the delivery and language used will be different for the three audiences. The physician’s message to the patient might be along the lines of therapeutic options and techniques for smoking cessation, the pharmacist’s might be the safe and effective use of prescribed smoking cessation medication, and the direct message to the public might be self-empowerment, reinforcement, and encouragement. Each message is delivered in the target audience’s language—you wouldn’t want to put physician and pharmacist medical jargon in the patient’s materials—layman’s terms are best for this audience to ensure the content is understood by the general public.
HS: Medical writers know how to spell and form sentences. Are editors still needed in this industry?
SH: In medical writing, one size does not fit all. There are many groups under the healthcare umbrella and the writing should suit the “language” of each group.Some writers are able to write effectively to all audiences while others specialize in writing for specific groups only. Expertise and experience among writers is vast and let’s face it, as in all professions, some writers are better than others.
No matter where medical writers fall on the spectrum, because you can write doesn’t mean you can edit or even spell. Coming from a humble editorial background, I think I am above average when it comes to my written word, but time and time again I come across that one document that I have checked 30 times and yet still find an error after I hit send/distribute.
Editors and proofreaders are there for a purpose—a very important purpose. They are there to perform a specific function to ensure excellence in communication materials. Again, because you can edit doesn’t mean you can proofread and vice versa… the odds are in your favour that you can, but it isn’t a guarantee.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this insightful interview with SH, where she shares her experience working with editors and what makes a good editor or proofreader.