Since the pandemic began, you’ve likely been writing many more emails than usual to your patients, or even using email communication with your patients for the first time. Here are a few tips for writing clear, effective emails to your patients.
General tips for writing effective emails
Overall, Forbes advises that you follow guidelines for any written communication: take time to compose, proofread, and fact-check if necessary. There are, however, a few conventions of good writing that are more specific to emails, according to Grammarly:
Stick to one topic whenever possible
No matter how many topics you cover in your email, be as concise as possible.
Try to keep emails to five sentences or less
Again, this is flexible. A simple appointment confirmation can be shorter, but more complex topics may require a little more explanation. In general, however, try to keep the five-sentence rule in mind.
Formatting and structure can help clarify
If you’re addressing multiple topics or asking multiple questions in one email, consider making them into a list or using bullets to denote each one, making them easier for your patient to read.
Don’t forget the subject line!
Much like a newspaper headline, your subject line should convey the message of your email in an informative way — and make the email easy for your patient to find again in their inbox.
The importance of health literacy
The tips above apply to any professional email, but health-care professionals need to keep one more thing in mind: health literacy. Your patients are almost certainly not as familiar with health- and medicine-related terminology as you are, so there's always a risk they can be confused by health information. Even patients who read well and are comfortable with numbers may experience health literacy problems when they have to evaluate statistics, are unfamiliar with how their bodies work, have health conditions that require complicated self-care, or are nervous about their health. Try to keep the terminology you use simple and provide definitions when you think it may be necessary. Healthcare.gov has a glossary that you can reference or link to in your emails.
Finally, before you send an email, reread it from the point of view of the average person who doesn’t work in healthcare. Ask yourself if there are any words that may be unfamiliar, or if there are any concepts that need more explanation.
Health insurance can also be confusing. AllWays Health Partners offers our employer customers a health insurance literacy guide for their employees. The concepts, suggestions, and health insurance glossary of terms may be helpful when you're communicating with your patients. You can download the guide for free here.