After her very successful post, "Writing Sensitive Content: What all Healthcare Marketers Should Know", Hadassa Field has written another guest post about marketing your hospital's genetic testing practice.
Think you need a crystal ball to see into your future? Not anymore. Genetic tests can reveal many of your health risks, as well as put longstanding fears to rest. And the rapidly growing field of genetic testing and counseling requires healthcare writers to put themselves into readers’ mind more than ever.
Having undergone genetic testing myself several years ago following my sister’s cancer diagnosis, I can tell you that good, sensitive communication is key. Healthcare facilities can do a better job of getting the essential information out to the patients who need it, and here’s how:
1. Be prepared for all kinds of patients
More than ever, patients are independently seeking genetic information in order to know what lies ahead. Thanks to the wealth of information on the internet, people are often more knowledgeable than their doctors expect. While some patients arrive on doctor’s orders, others may demand genetic testing even when it is not medically warranted. Many patients will have researched risk management options. Make sure your healthcare content addresses all patient populations.
Action item: Be sure to describe your genetic counseling practice in detail, so that all patients feel welcome, and know they are consulting with an experienced and knowledgeable team.
2. Pedigree, pedigree
The importance of constructing an accurate family history cannot be overstated. Let patients know that they should do some family research before meeting with a genetic counselor. They may be surprised to find out that Aunt Janet actually died of ovarian cancer, and that Uncle Kyle had two unheard of children who were institutionalized due to a hereditary neurodegenerative disorder. Older generations may unknowingly be hiding essential familial information that patients need to know.
Action item: Have a downloadable checklist available on your website that instructs patients about information they should bring with them to their first appointment.
3. Precision is everything
There are a multitude of genetic tests available. Patients want to be positive that they are undergoing the correct tests, so that they get the answers they want. Good test interpretation is just as important, as patients want to truly understand the accuracy of their results. Be clear about false positives, what a negative result really means, and how valid the percentages are. Remember, no one undergoes genetic testing in order to have vague information, so be as precise as possible.
Action item: After patients receive their results verbally, , be sure to provide a written report to take home and review later. Consider showing a sample report on your website in order to better prepare your patients.
4. Stay positive
Most people who seek genetic counseling are worried enough. Make sure that your writing reflects how empowering it can be to know your genetic destiny. Even bad news can be an impetus for change. When properly counseled, patients have the unusual opportunity of making decisions that may alter the course of their future. Acknowledge and celebrate that, instead of taking a doomsday approach.
Action item: Use positive language when discussing negative results, and highlight the fact that choice is empowering.
5. Put all the options on the table
Risk management and decision making are a major component of genetic counseling. Good content should spell out all the choices available to patients who have received bad news, as well as provide information about support groups or therapy providers. Be aware that some patients may want to take an aggressive approach to controlling their risks, while others may take a “wait and see” approach. Both are valid, and your content should not be skewed in favor of one over the other.
Action item: Explain all the alternatives available after discovering genetic results, so patient know they have more than one option.
6. Finesse the family dynamics
By its very nature, genetic testing involves whole families. But that does not mean that different members of the same family will make the same choices. It’s common for some members to refuse testing, even when (or perhaps especially when) the results may be life-changing. Alexandria Yonker, genetic counselor at California Pacific Medical Center, put it succinctly: “Typically, you can divide people into two camps when it comes to genetic counseling: Knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss. Both viewpoints are completely valid and, as a counselor, you have to respect that." Make sure your content is neutral on the subject. No need to fan the flames of what may already have become a contentious family issue. Be aware as well, that family relationships change when members of the same family undergo testing and get different results. Guilt and difficulty communicating are common, and should be discussed openly during genetic counseling sessions.
Action item: Explain that genetic counseling is complex, and family members may make different choices.
7. Transparency: results and records
Patients want to know who will get their records, and what repercussions may result from testing. Make sure your content addresses issues such as insurance coverage and patient privacy. If your hospital is involved in genetic research projects, provide full disclosure. I was fully aware that my genetic testing was part of a longitudinal study at a major teaching hospital. I was happy to be able to contribute to science while also helping myself, but not all patients feel the same way.
Action item: Describe in depth how genetic results will be used, and how the patient’s privacy will be protected.
8. Follow up
By far, the most impressive part of my experience was the follow up. Being part of a research project meant that I received yearly phone calls and mailings simply to check up on me. All genetic counseling facilities should have some version of follow up, whether or not they are research based. Patients want to know that there is an address for questions, even years later. Good content should tell patients exactly what kind of long term support they can expect.
Action item: Regularly update your genetic counseling pages, so that if there are staff changes, patients know who they can contact.
The average health care consumer will only encounter genetic testing and counseling when major life decisions need to be made. Anxiety will accompany these patients as they attempt to understand their own future. Stress will make the facts murky. Let’s make sure that our genetic testing content is especially lucid and clear, so that crystal balls become a thing of the past.