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Finding patient stories: common obstacles and how to get around them

Simple ways to make patient storytelling easier.

I never thought I was meant for healthcare. Taking my pulse makes me feel nauseous and I pale at the thought of getting my blood drawn. But I love stories. And it’s my firm belief that there are few industries with more compelling stories than healthcare.

As mentioned in a recent blog, we at Core love telling life-changing stories in healthcare. And when it comes to patient stories, there’s no shortage of compelling, emotional examples of our clients’ expertise, innovation and compassion.

Plus, there are several reasons to use patient stories in your marketing:

  • For one thing, they humanize your brand and make it more interesting. We can’t help it – we’re drawn to the stories of others. And it’s hard to argue that an ad touting your latest patient safety award is more interesting than a patient describing how your health system saved his or her life.
  • Patient stories also lend credibility to your brand. There’s less of a need for you to say how great your hospital is when you have a patient whose cancer is in remission saying it for you.
  • And, telling patient stories is literally good for your health. In 2011, The Annals of Internal Medicine published the results of a study[1] that looked at the effects of storytelling on patients with high blood pressure. Working with 300 hypertension patients, researchers gave half of the group videos featuring similar patients sharing stories of their own experiences. The other half was given generic health videos about things like reducing stress. The results? Patients who watched patient stories were better able to control their blood pressure, some even experiencing an improvement similar to those experienced by patients testing drug regimens.

But, while the benefits of sharing patient stories are many, the obstacles to identifying and capturing those stories can feel intimidating.

Let’s take a look at some common obstacles and, more importantly, how to get around them.

You don’t know where to start.

That’s ok. It’s a big undertaking! And, with health systems seeing thousands – if not millions – of patients a year, there are almost too many potential stories to choose from.

It’s helpful to start with your goals. Where will these patient stories be used? Are you focused on driving volumes for a particular location? What are your system’s priority service lines? Do you need to feature someone in a particular demographic? Thinking through the answers to these questions will help narrow your focus and get you pointed in the right direction.

Then, start gathering a pool of stories. It’s always a good idea to identify more potential patients than you think you actually have use for since scheduling conflicts and other unforeseen changes are common occurrences. Plus, sometimes a story you think will perfect just doesn’t translate when you get into it. Or, a story that doesn’t seem like much on the front end actually reveals itself to be extremely compelling after you dive a little deeper. Gathering several options helps you avoid scrambling at the last minute – and provides a bank of stories to draw from in the future.

You’re worried about HIPAA.

You wouldn’t be a healthcare marketer if you weren’t! Keeping HIPAA guidelines top-of-mind while gathering potential patient stories is vital, and there are easy ways to make sure you’re not doing anything to compromise patient information. Utmost caution should be taken to keep patients’ identities private up until they’ve been approached about and agree to share their story with the public.

If you’re working with an agency, it’s important that you own your relationship with patients throughout the entire process, but especially as they’re being approached to participate. Your agency should not be introduced to patients until they’ve agreed to be featured. Then, and only then, can your patients’ information be shared with anyone outside of your health system or hospital.

You’re not sure how to involve physicians.

Early and often. Physicians and other clinical staff – the people who actually see these patient stories in action – will be some of your greatest assets as you seek patients to feature. It’s important to equip them with the right tools, though.

We provide our clients with guidelines that feature an overview of the campaign and how patient stories will be used, what types of patients we’re hoping to feature and some questions to think about as patients are selected. To find the most compelling patient stories, your clinical staff should think about patients who have impacted them most emotionally in the past six months and those whose stories have stuck with them. This helps get to the heart of the patient experience and usually leads to a really compelling story.

You don’t know which story is right.

The good thing about patient stories is that healthcare is naturally emotional. Whether it’s a patient story featuring a super serious condition or something a little lighter, the stories we get to tell are inherently impactful.

But sometimes, you won’t know if a story is right until you’ve contacted the patient and learned more about their experience. What can sound great on paper can fall flat once you learn more. That’s ok! If you have a pool of stories to choose from, you can just move on to the next.

A patient story is right if it meets the criteria you’ve outlined for a campaign and, more importantly, if it makes you feel something. Because if it tugs at your heartstrings, there’s a good chance it’ll tug at your audience’s, too.


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