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Simple ways to make patient storytelling easier

These recommendations will help you get the patient stories you need for breakthrough healthcare marketing campaigns

We love telling life-changing stories in healthcare.

When it comes to real patient stories, there’s no shortage of compelling, emotional examples of the expertise, innovation and compassion found among our clients’ teams. Many of the best healthcare advertising campaigns draw from inspirational healthcare stories. It’s not facts, figures, awards, locations and features that helps people remember and choose you –– it’s emotion. Often, stories are a key component of a healthcare marketing strategy. As a partner, Core Health enjoys working with all facets of your team to help you develop unique creative solutions in healthcare to answer the age old question, “how to get more patients.” Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the right path forward, even when we know we just want to tell stories. Because we know there can be challenges and because we recognize the value in healthcare storytelling, we assembled these recommendations to help you get it done. If your team needs support, a spark of creativity or a strategy to differentiate in your market, contact us and we can work through your problems or help you focus your ideas.

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 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 or one whose bariatric surgery journey makes a compelling promise to help boost patient volumes in a key service area.
  • And, telling patient stories is literally good for your health. In 2011, The Annals of Internal Medicine published the results of a study 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? Those 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.

We understand that 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 challenges our healthcare marketing clients have faced and, more importantly, how to get around them.

You don’t know where to start.

Raise your hand if this is you. It’s ok, this is 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. Aside from identifying the right story, as we’ll discuss next, you need to have connections with your internal teams to get the right access to the right people. Healthcare marketing teams can be beyond complex. Communications. Content. Social media. Public relations. Partners. Vendors. Consultants. You shouldn’t have to wade through numerous gatekeepers just to get to the right people to find and tell an impactful story. Sometimes, the best approach is to connect the right talent and get it done. Sometimes, that’s an agency partner and an internal subject-matter expert or a key connector. Whatever it takes, get the right people together and let them make magic. Of course, along the way you’ll need to secure vital approvals and meet regulatory needs, but if you’re able to show people what you plan on doing, you’ll be helping them a lot more than coming back time and time again with a request they can’t get their head around.

It’s helpful to start with your goals.

Where will these healthcare patient stories be used? Are you focused on driving patient volumes for a particular location or service line? What are your system’s priority service lines now, yes, but what about three months from now? 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 be perfect just doesn’t translate when you get into it. Or, a story that doesn’t seem like much at first 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. There’s also the need to identify, capture and tell stories with the near instant turnaround required of social media. Social media managers are planners and doers, yes, who integrate a great many needs for a great many initiatives. They also have the opportunity to integrate with health system communication and public relations teams, put on their journalist hat and share some of the wonderful, emotional stories of people seeking care in their facilities, particularly at a time when so many need reassurance and confidence that it is safe to seek care during the COVID-19 pandemic. While you’re building a pool of stories, think about how those storytellers of yours understand how each story can be told in a different way for a different channel. A single patient story can be used in many different ways for a 30-second TV spot, a landing page video and a series of social media posts. Real patient stories can help you and your team develop award-winning healthcare campaigns that will help you stand out in your market.

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 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 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 serious condition or something a little lighter, the stories we get to tell are inherently impactful. It humanizes healthcare in a way that not many other things can. And by doing that, it helps future patients feel an emotional connection with your health system or hospital. That’s vital to helping people believe your services, your physicians and the care you provide is right for them. It’s vital to them trusting you.

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 one.

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.

Do you need help telling your patient stories? Contact us today.

This article was originally written by Core Creative’s Laura Koski. It has been edited, updated and republished on Core Health’s website. Core Health is Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.


Colin Deval is the Senior Communications Strategist at at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.


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