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Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit

Switching the Script on Serious Illness Messaging and Care

Talking about serious illness, hospice, and palliative care doesn’t have to be dark. The Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit switches the script. Building on years of research and interviews, the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit puts patient experience at the heart of messaging for hospice, palliative, and serious illness care. Together with two serious illness care experts, we created the toolkits to drive access to better resources, messaging, and, ultimately, care.

Strategic Discovery

An Industry Operating on Outdated Understandings

For too long, the conversation surrounding serious illness care painted a one-dimensional and inaccessible picture for patients. In the strategy phase of our work with researchers, Dr. Anthony Back and Marian Grant, DNP, we unpacked their years of extensive research, literature reviews, and interviews. In our workshops, we dove into the challenges and opportunities to improve serious illness messaging with research-backed principles that addressed the sentiment of real patients. The learnings uncovered in our research and strategy phase provided the roadmap for turning principles into an actionable toolkit.

Strategic Discovery

Centering Patients’ Perspectives

The majority of hospice, palliative, and serious illness care messaging failed to speak to the diversity of care needs—the visual language used to describe the care showed cupped hands, doves, and bed-bound patients. Serious illness care journeys aren’t one-size-fits-all though, and the messaging shouldn’t be, either. Years of research pointed the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit team to the 5 Principles, a set of messaging characteristics that consistently engages public audiences on these forms of care and aims to make patients feel in control, represented, and supported on their care journeys. These principles help guide the tools, resources, and trips throughout the toolkit.

User Experience

Framing the Argument for Better Messaging

Providers, experts, and advocates alike, with the proper messaging, have the power to make patients feel empowered in their care journeys. But without the right tools, it might be difficult for a provider, for example, to undergo a messaging makeover while they manage administering serious illness care. In order to realize the potential of this important research, the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit needed to be exactly that—a tool. It needed to be accessible, modern, and engaging in order to appeal to the people who have the power to improve serious illness messaging. And, after engaging these communicators, the site was designed to make navigation and accessing resources and guides as easy as possible.

Messaging Strategy

Steps and Tips for Better, More Inclusive Messaging

The Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit is nothing if not actionable. To make sure that communicators are prepared for a messaging makeover, we centered three pages: “Steps for Better Messaging,” “Tips for Better Messaging,” and “Inclusive Messaging.” The messaging seeks to make patients feel reflected and heard, and the straightforward steps and the grids of messaging do’s and don’ts inform the content throughout the toolkit. Each section is substantiated with the sources that the team gathered after years of researching the issue.

To make sure that everyone who needs serious illness care seeks it, the toolkit centers visual and verbal language that reflects the diversity of needs, ability, and perspectives of serious illness patients.

Illustrations & Design System

Inclusive Visual Storytelling

Serious illness care doesn’t have one face or age. Once we had the inclusive messaging down, we switched focus to visual inclusivity. To visually demonstrate the diversity of ability across patients, we utilized fictional, fantastical people and purple skin. The design and illustrations in the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit aim to increase relatability, reduce isolation, and break the trend of visual stereotypes surrounding people with serious illnesses. The animations across the site reflect the principles behind the verbal messaging—principles rooted in centering real patients’ needs and their role in their care journeys.

Toolkit Design

Bringing Years of Serious Illness Research to Life

The Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit is built around an understanding that different organizations all have their own unique needs. The same words won’t work everywhere. But the same principles illuminated throughout the toolkit consistently engage public audiences. The site builds on that goal of engagement and the aim for accessibility to make messaging that works easy to adopt for serious illness communicators. With dynamic components, downloadable resources, and engaging design, the toolkit seeks to translate empirical research into action.

In order to realize the potential of this important research, the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit needed to be an accessible, modern, and engaging tool that appeals to the people with the power to improve serious illness messaging.


Sparking a Virtuous Cycle of Improved Care

Our partners wanted to build this toolkit in order to change how the public views serious illness care, and consequently, so that more people experience the benefits of effective care. Changing the messaging is the first step, but beyond improving messaging through empirical research, we share a goal of changing the narrative too. Many people who could benefit from serious illness care don’t receive it. If we switch the script so that people can see themselves reflected and empowered in the messaging surrounding these kinds of care, we can spark a virtuous cycle of improved care and increased access to care. The resource center, with research, worksheets, tools, and guides for communicators helps set the spark for changing the narrative.

Research Applications

Steal These Messages

Effective messages about serious illness and advanced care planning don’t need to be complex or entirely unique. To expand the use and adoption of the evidence-backed principles outlined in the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit, the site encourages healthcare providers to copy and paste as they please. The toolkit includes free images, text, and messaging free for downloading. The resources are optimized for websites, brochures, or social media share copy, but can be used across a variety of mediums. Resources can both be downloaded as PDFs and the site’s design also hyperlinks

Quick Guides

A Messaging Makeover Made Easy: Quick Guides

People who work in health care have a lot on their plates. And while a messaging makeover might seem daunting, the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit seeks to meet providers, caretakers, and advocates where they are with quick guides. One of the site’s most utilitarian resources are the quick guides. With quick guides for advanced, palliative, and hospice care, each guide presents messages that do and don’t work, research highlights, and patient and caregiver stories to build a holistic understanding of effective messaging in the space.

Marketing & Analytics

Sharing a Site with Outsized Potential

To meet that goal of creating messaging that catches on and ultimately shifts perceptions, the toolkit was designed to be as plug-and-play as possible for communicators. To make sure the toolkit reached the right audiences, after the site went live our work with the team at the Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit continued into new territories: analytics, marketing, user experience. The team at Constructive utilized our background in website traffic and on-page analytics to monitor the user experience and utilization of the tool. We also leveraged our deep knowledge of the brand and the tool to bring the toolkit to new audiences, launching a LinkedIn, managing content, and promoting research for the site.

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