4 Ways to Make an Impact with Patient Stories

When my son, Jack, was 14 months old, we learned he had a rare heart condition called a double aortic arch, or vascular ring. The condition is marked by an extra branch that stems from the heart and encircles the esophagus and trachea almost like a vise. The result: Kids sound like a truck motor when they breathe, and they have trouble swallowing.

We were terrified. Google searches yielded plenty of data but almost nothing from patients who had been there, done that. Because of the lack of information available, I wrote about my story in Good Housekeeping magazine.

A few weeks after the magazine hit newsstands, the marketing team at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego — where my son received care — called me and asked me to share Jack’s story in an advertorial for San Diego Magazine.

The Perks of Patient Stories

Patient stories are powerful marketing tools. When you’re facing a new diagnosis, hearing from someone who experienced the same condition — and came out OK on the other side — is not only comforting, it may lead you to seek out the same healthcare team.

You can’t overstate the value of patient stories. Among the perks for marketers:

Patient stories are covert marketing

Patient stories pack an emotional punch. You’re sharing an impactful story that makes readers feel something — showing instead of telling. These stories bring your facility — and team — to life.

From my story, readers learned our doctor was a “toddler whisperer” and that he uncovered a condition several other physicians missed. For a person seeking excellent, compassionate healthcare from real people — not just from a faceless facility — these details create an emotional response that may lead to action. Patient stories often act as a vehicle that spurs readers to make a phone call.

Stories may even affect patient outcomes

Reading patient stories can help people feel better about their condition. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011 compared 2 groups of patients with high blood pressure. The study found that patients who watched videos featuring stories similar to their own were better able to control their blood pressure than those who watched a generic health improvement video.

Capturing Compelling Stories

Masterminding ways to spot and capture those patient stories can feel overwhelming. Never fear. Adopt these 4 key strategies to streamline the process:

  1. Talk to staff: Ask them to recall their most complex case, memorable patient or emotional patient interaction. Good patient stories come from both the physicians and the nurses who care for sick patients.
  2. Monitor social media: Check in with your hospital’s social media team to find out if any stories or positive shout-outs have been posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. A small post on a social channel can alert you to an inspiring patient story. And don’t forget to set up Google Alerts for your hospital’s name, like Rady Children’s Hospital did to learn about mine.
  3. Get into the weeds: Pay attention to what’s going on in the periphery of a patient’s clinical care to produce more compelling storytelling. So even though the doctor’s choice of a scrub cap wasn’t relevant to the care my son received, it added color to the story and kept readers engaged.
  4. Select the right sources: Consider where you’ll use the story. Are you trying to increase volume in a particular service line? Attract new donors? Or secure more diverse patients (or staff)? Use the answers to these questions to guide your Fioricet search. And once you secure a source, be careful not to overuse them. One ask is great. Three or four? Not so much.

My son received top-notch care at Rady Children’s Hospital. Sharing Jack’s story and assisting with the hospital’s marketing efforts was an honor and a pleasure. That’s the passion you want potential patients to feel when they read your content.

You want readers to get a sense of the patient experience from grateful patients who were there. That can help them feel confident when putting their lives — or their loved ones — in the hands of your team.

4 Ways to Effectively Use Stories in Any Industry

  • Don’t worry about the format; find the story: Too often, we find a customer story and think “Video!” or “Article!” First, spend the time to truly understand the story, and then decide the content format. You’ll be able to use it in so many different ways if you free your mind from one particular content type and instead focus on the natural beauty of the narrative.
  • Don’t be afraid of bad endings: People don’t always have a success story to tell. That’s okay. Find the stories that demonstrate how your company learned from the experience and made it right for your customers. It’s okay to reveal your vulnerability and demonstrate that things don’t always go right. Customers will get an important take-away from your story: You do everything you can to change the course of the ship. See an example of how we talk about our challenges with voice and tone on a digital mobile project.
  • Focus on THE story that drives decisions: When we tell stories, we often try to tell the whole story. But the entire narrative may not be important to the consumer as he or she is trying to make a decision to buy or convert. Find the key to the story that unlocks that decision, and tell it. The rest of the story may be interesting, but if it isn’t relevant to the sales process, cut it.
  • Put the stories in the right place: I often find customer testimonials completely disconnected from related content on the website. That makes no sense for obvious reasons. Can you imagine Amazon putting their customer testimonials on a completely different part of the site, requiring people to hunt for them? Make sure your customer reviews and customer testimonials are as close as possible to your descriptions of your goods and services. Otherwise, they’ll miss seeing the review, and that additional conversion part in the sales process will get lost.

On the web, stories are our chance to pull back the curtain from our brand—to reveal our brand personality—and explain why customers should choose us. As brands and organizations, we need to be braver in our storytelling, so we can make the connection that causes our customers to convert.

Here’s more inspiration for writing compelling patient stories:

This Is a Trick Blog Post

5 Tips to Writing Amazing Physician Bios

Why We Should Learn Directly From Patients

About Amy Paturel

Amy Paturel

Amy is an award-winning health journalist and blogger whose work frequently appears in Prevention, AARP, Parents and SKY Magazine, as well as custom publications and websites including Neurology Now, WebMD and BabyCenter.com. A passionate essayist, Amy also teaches personal essay writing to stude... More >