Creating a Laboratory Newsletter

Running a laboratory and a business are alike. There are fixed and variable costs (instruments and reagents), a customer base (physicians) and a product (laboratory results). Your laboratory also competes for the attention of your customers. A newsletter can be an exciting way to market your quality directly to your physicians to let them know what’s behind your product.

Building Trust

A newsletter can enhance trust between your laboratory and physicians. It can help brand your laboratory as a trusted resource and build expectations of what services your provide. First, you’ll need to decide who your target readership is and what they may be interested in.

Marketing captures the attention of your customers. This can inform (“We offer a new service”), educate (“Our highly sensitive troponin has < 10% imprecision at the 99th percentile”) or sell (“We have lowered our prices to be more competitive”). Physician attention is more divided than many; your message needs to be quickly absorbed.

Successful marketing to physicians is about building trusting relationships, according to one website. Your information has to be reliable to influence decision making. “Selling works but education works better,” it states, claiming a physician spends less time with a sales rep than patients–about eight minutes.1

Another site echoes this idea of developing personal relationships by first identifying primary care physicians and then starting with the office “gatekeepers” to gain access to the physician.2 Any newsletter your create to market your laboratory will likely first be seen by office staff.

A survey or visit to each office is one approach to see if medical staff will appreciate specific, timely information about your laboratory. Perhaps they are interested in new technology or your own internal quality control. They may be interested in general collection guidelines or other resources for their staff. Once you have a sense of what your customers want, it’s time to create the newsletter itself.

Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing–designing a printed page–launched in 1985 with MacPublisher sold by Apple. The term was coined by an industry executive seeking a phrase that captured the affordable, easy-to-use products compared to expensive phototypesetting equipment of the day.3

Much has changed in the last 25 years. A newsletter can be printed on paper or electronically, the latter formatted for a standard web page or mobile device. To start, you may wish to give physicians your newsletter in a number of formats or a choice of paper versus email.

A PDF (Portable Document Format) version of your printed product is a common expectation. The advantage of a PDF is that it mimics a printed page and only requires the free Adobe Reader to view. It can be created using free virtual “printer” drivers available online. Your IT and marketing departments can help.

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Look and Feel

Let’s consider one software tool packaged with Microsoft Office, Publisher (there are many others). You can use Publisher to build a template to create a “fill in the blank” approach for content. This will be your largest time investment.

When Publisher is opened, a “Start” screen is displayed that gives you choices in creating a document. Select “Publications for Print” to see available templates you can use, including Newsletters. The selection will give you ideas of layout, length and what kind of content (e.g. short or long articles) you’ll have to create.

You can design your own template, too. At Penobscot Valley Hospital, we decided on a flyer design with news on the front page and educational material on the back. Designing is time well spent, which you may want to delegate to an ad hoc committee or your marketing department.

Pros and Cons of Desktop Publishing
Pros Cons

• WSYIWYG – “What You See Is What You Get” menu design
• Mimics the printed page
• Easy to arrange graphics on the page
• Flexible – accepts multiple formats
• Can import from other programs e.g. Word

• Steep learning curve
• Time consuming
• Content is “cropped” to fit area
• Colors may look different on different printers

Content is King

Your template can be filled with content, including articles, bullet points, lists, test directory items, images, charts, etc.–anything your customers are interested in. This information can be presented as a regular feature or as a theme. For example, you may include a page every issue of updates to your test menu or as a periodic update for an entire newsletter. Your initial survey will help you decide.

One online resource has the following tips:4

  • Make your newsletter’s name an attention grabber. A generic sounding name, such as “Memorial Hospital Laboratory News,” won’t draw in readers. Consider an in-lab contest to come up with a fun, catchy name.
  • Write your newsletter’s articles objectively. A newsletter should be a “soft sell.” Stick to facts and limit opinion to explicit editorials or interviews.
  • Write to express, not to impress. Don’t use big words when smaller words will do and avoid excessive jargon. Remember your target audience.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. It’s easy to miss errors when you’ve stared at something for an hour. Proofreading is critical.
  • Use front-page articles to draw in readers. Your front page should feature your best articles to grab your readers’ attention.
  • Use at least one graphic per page. Studies have shown that graphics draw the reader’s eye (along with headlines). Graphics also provide visual breaks on a page of text.
  • Use image-editing software to sharpen your photos. Scanned images may appear “muddy” when resized for your newsletter.
  • Use accent colors and tints to make your newsletter more eye-catching. This applies if full-color is not an option. Use color if you can.
  • Give your print shop an electronic file to print from. If not printing in house, send your print shop your Publisher or other file to work with.
  • Use recycled paper. Many customers will appreciate a “green” philosophy in your newsletter design.

A newsletter, however useful, can seem an overwhelming project for a busy laboratory. Identifying and delegating tasks can soften the impact of the up-front time, making it easier and fun to create content. It can be an interesting, eye-catching way to promote your laboratory and inform physicians, creating a bond of trust that improves patient care.

Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP), is lab manager at Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, ME.

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