Vaporous Storytelling

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Recently we came across this communication from a healthcare system to its patients or consumers or customers or external stakeholders, or whatever your preference is to describe your constituency:


In the disruptive and rapidly changing environment of healthcare, our hospital system is leading a paradigm shift in patient-centered care using data-driven models to pursue innovation in quality, service and compassion. Here, we challenged ourselves to think outside the box and color outside the lines, tearing down internal silos to achieve a higher level of collaboration in cross-functional teams. At the end of the day, that means our patients can trust us to be a partner of choice for them individually and for their families. Our dedicated physicians, physician extenders, clinical service providers, nurses, environmental services staff, food preparation specialists, board of directors, community volunteers, administrators (and other categories of internal stakeholders we can’t remember right now) work tirelessly 24/7 to ensure our patients and their families have a 5-star experience in our newly remodeled facility, complete with the most advanced state-of-the-art technology. More importantly, we are committed to positively moving the needle of medical delivery and creating easy access to the highest quality care close to home.


You’re right. This is not an actual communication, but it comes uncomfortably close to some we’ve seen. We constructed it ourselves from a list of common corporate clichés and vaporous writing we collected from meetings, memos, emails, advertising and the like. The words and phrases are not specific, lack power, and communicate very little, though the story tries to take a position of lofty importance.


Depending on how one counts, the sample story in 168 words manages to pack in more than 20 vaporous phrases. For example, what does data-driven actually mean, especially to a consumer? What are cross-functional teams and why should a patient care? Why is the institutional and distant word “facility” such a favorite in healthcare to describe where we practice our patient-centered care? If we drive innovation or move the needle, what actually happens that might be meaningful to a customer?


In healthy writing, we should try to wrap our heads around the elephant in the room and consider how to consistently achieve the basic blocking and tackling of clarity in our communication. Sometimes we need to eat our own cooking. In the perfect storm of busy schedules and limited bandwidth, where we feel at times like we are drinking from a firehose, each of us has an opportunity to cast ourselves and our companies in a better light by choosing words more wisely. Together, let’s blue-sky this, put a stake in the ground, go after the low-hanging fruit, get some quick wins, and take it viral.


We believe this last paragraph added at least a dozen more to the list we’ve assembled here. Remember, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a cliché so purge it from your vocabulary and your writing.