Editing Content in the Medical Field

Editing Content in the Medical Field

Forum Organized by Rick Coykendall and Alan Reade and chaired by Karen Asbelle
Notes by Alan Reade and Vici Casana

Our panelists March 22, 2006 were:

Kathleen Lawrence, a medical editor who has worked as an executive editor for a group of healthcare magazines and their related Web sites. She's spent 17 years editing articles and websites for doctors, particularly radiologists. She's also trained editors on how to work in the medical field.
Scott Searles, a senior instructional design consultant in the Health Plan segment of Kaiser Permanente, working with clients who are salespeople and underwriters. He has years of high-tech experience, including time at DigitalThink/Convergys, as well as ten years in sales. His instruction helps sell health plans to companies.
Ray Pifferrer, a senior instructional design consultant in the Health Plan segment of Kaiser Permanente. Like Scott, Ray works with clients who are salespeople and underwriters and has years of high-tech experience, including time at DigitalThink/Convergys. Ray also has experience as a diversity trainer and has developed content for community-based medical clinics.

Highlights of Each Panelist's Presentation

Kathleen Lawrence

Solid editorial skills and a flair for language are most critical for working as a medical editor. Medical knowledge can be acquired on the job. Radiologists are a sophisticated and demanding audience. There is not much room for error and a lot of pressure to "edit it right" the first time. The material Kathleen edits is highly technical and has to be refined; this is complicated by the fact that most doctors don't write very well.

Kathleen developed her own pool of experts to whom she could address content questions, rather than querying the authors of her articles; the magazine she worked on had an "editorial advisory board" of physicians, which is good general practice. Liability issues do not occur in her type of medical editing because the content is generally peer-to-peer, rather than medical-expert-to-general-public.

Some articles are written by people for whom English is a second language, which means more terminology issues to investigate. Kathleen says she uses Microsoft Word for editing written content; she looks over QuarkXPress for layouts as well as some PowerPoint slides. There are more opportunities for editorial freelancers in medical ad agencies than in medical publications, according to Kathleen. Medical Web sites are also providing opportunities for writers and editors.

Kathleen is currently working on patient brochures for doctors' offices, a needed service for some doctors. Some medical articles use general medical content from the National Institutes of Health, but this material must be cited so as not to be considered plagiarism.

Kathleen recommends the following resources:

  • American Medical Writers' Association ($135/yr., job listings available)
  • Association of Health Care Journalists ($60/yr., job bank available)
  • Inkwell Editorial (copy-editing overview available for $4.95/yr.; more "bargain basement" than the other two sites, according to Kathleen)
  • Scott Searles

    Designing instruction for his medical sales team involves more consulting than deep-ontent development. Scott did not need to learn a special set of medical content to be effective; being immersed in it and explaining it to others made the subject matter familiar. Because of short turnaround times, the focus is on concision and meeting deadlines. Scott consults on a number of small issues that, as an outside consultant, he did not need to address. He uses Microsoft Word (with Track Changes on) and PowerPoint slides with the Notes feature, as well as a plug-in for PowerPoint that turns slide shows into Flash presentations.

    Ray Pifferrer

    Designing medical instruction for sales teams can mean extreme simplicity in the writing. Dealing with subject-matter experts with large egos can take diplomacy at times, as in other types of editing. Ray's subject-matter experts can write in unclear, old-style academic language; this is when an editor is especially vital. Editors who have technical knowledge are highly valued at Kaiser, but it is more important to hire editors with editorial skill.

    The workflow in designing medical-related instruction can be challenging because of compliance reviews, a vetting process of content against state and federal standards; a well- written piece of instruction can be made more confusing to match prescribed language--sometimes left intentionally amorphous, so as to be more open to interpretation.

    Ray advises creating a style guide if one does not exist. For instance, frequent changes to Medicare mean that Medicare terminology has to be tracked in a style guide so that sales and underwriting teams can use the most current terms. Peer editing is supposed to occur on all content, but does not. This means editing is crucial, but sometimes financial issues prevent hiring editors. Ray uses the same software tools as Scott; he thinks new electronic content-management tools are not editor-friendly.



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