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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.

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 A passionate essayist, Amy also teaches personal essay writing to stude... More >