Understand the anatomy of an e-mail message

November 1, 2005

Quick rules of thumb for managing e-mail across a practice

You've integrated e-mail as part of your client and patient management strategy. This normally means you've made the transition from sending group e-mails using your day-to-day e-mail system to using a professional e-mail software or service, which allows you to fine tune e-mail message composition.

As a healthcare business professional managing your e-mail messaging, what should your next step be? Answer: You're ready to examine the anatomy of your e-mail message and make the necessary adjustments to improve function. This is a critical point in your e-mail communications.

Did you know that you have an existing e-mail spam filter inside your head? It's activated whenever you're scanning your own e-mail inbox and by reviewing the "From" fields and subject lines of your inbound e-mails, the filter inside your head identifies the e-mail you've received as either something you want to read or something you're going to trash.

The "From" field should either be your name, the name of your practice, the name of your newsletter, or a name that should be immediately recognizable by clients. It should not be a name or word they wouldn't recognize, nor should it be in all capital letters. It also should not change with each e-mail. If you need any more direction on what not to do with your "From" field, you can review the messages you've received that you've thrown in your e-mail trash can.

Subject line second priority

The importance of the subject line is second only to the "From" field. Some quick rules of thumb: Don't make the subject line so long that it flows out of the visible display area of the e-mail recipient. Also, if possible, the subject line should state the nature of the message and/or who it's from, if not apparent in the "From" field. For readability purposes, the subject line should be no longer than 40 characters long, give or take a few spaces. "Appointment reminder from [the practice's name]," for example.

If possible, as a minimum standard, your e-mail should contain a personalized first name salutation. This is accomplished by inserting a merge field in your e-mail message that will automatically insert the first names of your customers from a field in your database.

A personalized salutation in your e-mail messages is critical. It helps recipients separate requested e-mails from unsolicited spam e-mail. Personalized messages also serve as reminders to clients that they have indeed requested your important e-mail messages. Most e-mail professionals agree that addressing customers on a first-name basis is the best way to build interactive relationships via e-mail.

The importance of testing your e-mail message cannot be overstated. Your office should not be sending out sloppy, choppy, poorly edited e-mail messages to your clients.

Another e-mail testing tip: e-mailing a draft message to yourself, especially from the same computer, is not a test. The message doesn't even leave your system, and such a test won't tell you much. You'll need to test your message with e-mail addresses outside of your own IP address in order to determine how the message will look when customers get it.