A post on my Twitter feed tells me that it’s National Storytelling Week in the UK right now, and points me towards an analysis of leading UK companies conducted by content agency Insight Agents.

The report they’ve produced looks at a couple of key statements produced by all the businesses currently ranked by market cap in the FTSE’s top 50 index: the ‘About Us’ pages on their corporate websites, and the ‘CEO’s Review’ section of their annual reports. 

As the report notes, these statements represent two of the most important calling cards an organisation can put into the public domain. They set the tone for how investors, analysts, the public and its employees will perceive that company.

The methodology is one that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever written or edited copy (particularly web copy) for a general public audience. 

Companies are rated by the Flesch-Kincaid ‘reading ease’ test, which assigns a score, based on the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word. The outcome is then mapped to an equivalent school grade/year level of literacy. 

So, with three life sciences businesses in the FTSE 50 (AZ, GSK and Shire), how do they rate? It’s not good news. All three are ranked in the bottom quarter of the report’s “Clarity Index”. 

This is painful because healthcare is an industry that has made all the right noises in recent years around embracing patient-centricity. But somehow we all still produce written materials which patients and the public can find difficult to understand. 

A paper published last year looked at the readability of the most visible online materials intended to support patients with congestive heart failure. It found that only five out of the 70 websites assessed met the 6th Grade standard (equivalent to a reading age of 11-12) that’s seen as a requirement for clearly understandable patient information. 

Then for manufacturers specifically, there’s further evidence that the use of medical jargon and technology in patient information leaflets can actually be self-defeating – scaring patients into immediate non-adherence the minute they read them. 

Obviously, it’s easier to preach about than to deliver on the need for clearly written information. This blog post, for example, fails very hard on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. 

But my excuse for this is that I’m not writing for patients. I’m writing for a professional audience of marketers and communicators. 

And if you’re one of them, and if you’re responsible for patient-facing content for a brand that prides itself on patient-centricity, then by the time next year’s National Storytelling Week rolls around hopefully you’ll have done your bit to make your and your company’s story as clear your audiences need it to be. 

About the Author:

Duncan works on our European Innovation team. He’s worked in digital for the last 20 years, healthcare for the last ten, and for Syneos Health Communications since 2012.