Health Care or Healthcare? Here’s the Answer You Won’t Find in an AP Stylebook

Feb 20, 2019

Marketing, advertising and PR professionals know that words matter. And many companies are tweaking their internal and external communications to better reflect their mission and values. That might mean talking about those who work for you as “team members” to better reflect a belief that all employees contribute to the success of an organization.

Similarly, many companies are shifting how they talk about their customers, using terms like “partners” instead. The message is that they’re committed to help companies succeed with support and advisory services, rather than just delivering a product in a box and walking away.

In the healthcare industry, we’re seeing a shift in how providers are talking about patients, too. They’re also rethinking how they talk about the services they deliver and the conditions they treat. And anyone who is marketing to or communicating with providers should understand why the following three word choices matter.

1. Healthcare versus health care

The difference between these two terms is about more than house style or personal preference. The term healthcare–one word–refers to an industry and the system of providers within it. But health care–two words–is about improving health and caring for people, especially when it comes to treating populations. The current trend toward population health is about making communities healthier by supporting preventive care and wellness. The goal is to provide health care–in order to keep people out of the healthcare system.

2. Patients versus people

Speaking of keeping people out of the healthcare system, marketers should use caution when using the word patient. Many healthcare organizations–especially those that are focused on population health and accountable and value-based care models–are rethinking this common noun. In fact, some healthcare organizations have asked their staff to avoid using it whenever possible and use phrases like “the woman in room 401” or “the people we care for at our hospital.” Of course, it’s not always possible. It wouldn’t make sense to use the phrase “people outcomes” instead of “patient outcomes,” for example. But when you’re communicating with healthcare leaders who are passionate about their mission, keep in mind that they do, indeed, view their patients as people first.

3. Disease states versus conditions

Another trend showing up in the language of health services is to avoid conflating patients with their conditions. You don’t say a person “is cancer.” So why would you say a person “is diabetic?” Just as people are much more than patients, they’re also more than their disease state. And no one wants to be defined by what makes their lives most difficult. These days, the preferred phrase is “a person with diabetes.”

These may seem like small distinctions to you. And, yes, the differences are sometimes subtle. But it’s still worth taking into consideration. Because the use of these words speaks to the value and mission of provider organizations, physicians, nurses–and others across non-clinical departments, too–who have dedicated their lives and their careers to caring for people. A small effort to speak their language is not only a sign of respect for that passion, but also demonstrates you are well-versed in the current thinking about health care.
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Because, after all, words matter.

Jodi Amendola

Jodi is an accomplished leader with 25 years of experience developing, implementing and executing high-impact, integrated business-to-business public relations and marketing campaigns. Since 2004, she has served as CEO and co-founder of Amendola, where she has led campaigns for countless industry giants and start-up companies.