Media 101: Avoid Medical Jargon When Talking to the Press
By Alex Strauss
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Being interviewed by a member of the media can be both exciting and a little intimidating – especially for those who don’t do it often. How do you make the most of your opportunity to promote your practice, boost your brand, and educate the public? For starters, make sure you’re understood.
Remember: When you talk to the media, you are not talking to your colleagues. You are not talking to the reporter. You are not even talking to a room full of patients. You are talking to one single patient. And it’s best to assume that the patient to whom you are talking is also pretty unsophisticated. If it doubt, always err on the side of simplicity.
No one knows the word ‘edema’
Of course, some people obviously know the meaning of the word “edema”, but it may be fewer people than you realize. It is vital to keep in mind, especially if you are new to working with the press, that words that may be part of your daily lexicon are likely to be totally unfamiliar to your audience.
Equally concerning is the fact that industry jargon may be unfamiliar to the reporter. This is a problem because you need that reporter to clearly understand you so that he or she can accurately convey your meaning to an audience.
If in doubt, don’t risk it. When you are tempted to use medical terms, research jargon, or complex words, dumb it down. And don’t worry about being too simplistic. Reporters are taught to write for a third to fifth grade audience and your goal is to make this task as easy as possible for them.
Think of your oldest, youngest, or most-confused client or patient and speak to that person. Here are some examples of medical jargon and abbreviations along with plain language (read, more press-friendly) alternatives:
Abrasion = scrape, scratch
Biopsy = tissue sample
Blood glucose = blood sugar
Edema = swelling
Excise = cut out
Hypertension = high blood pressure
Laceration = cut, tear
Palpate = feel
Having a camera or microphone in your face or a reporter frantically typing over the phone line can make it seem like the time to be at your most scientifically eloquent. Resist the temptation! Remember, your goal is to make things clear and simple – for the reporter as well as the audience. Slow down, repeat, rephrase. This is not a medical conference.
If you want to be quoted… or quoted again… or called back… use as much ordinary language as possible. Reporters will love you for it.
Analogies and Visual Aides
Especially if a concept is likely to be tough to grasp or unfamiliar, try to paint a picture with your words. Say things like “Imagine two metal plates rubbing together….” or “weak like a balloon that has been overinflated”. Original analogies are even better. Whatever it takes to make the point clear.
If you typically use hand gestures, models or pictures to illustrate a point for patients in the office, consider offering to do the same for the reporter. During your interview, take a cue from media darling Deepak Chopra, MD, and speak slowly, over enunciate, and pause often. And if in doubt, stop and simply ask the reporter if he or she understands your meaning.
Take Home Message: Reporters and patients want to work with people who speak in terms they can understand. Use your interview to demonstrate that you are that person.