By Erika Turan, APR, Senior Account Executive
We help many healthcare clients tell compelling, engaging, and important patient stories. In my decades of doing this work, I’ve never grown tired of it. I started at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in the mid-1990s, interviewing physicians about vitamin E research and anesthesiology protocols and orthopaedic residencies. I progressed to interviewing a patient who underwent a groundbreaking heart procedure at a Cincinnati hospital, and others who received transplants or had incredible birth stories. I’ve had the privilege of listening, learning and telling the stories of medical pioneers more times than I can count.
If your hospital is planning to use patient stories for education and outreach, here are some tips for a successful interview.
- Do your homework. Talk to an internal stakeholder, such as a department director or clinician who can first provide you with important details about the patient’s story. It’s helpful to know what makes the story different or unique, who the physicians and care team were, and how the story is intended to be used. If you’re ultimately writing a 100-word spotlight or a 1,000-word online article, your focus may be different depending on the final use.
- Develop a list of questions, and then plan to go offtrack. Make sure you have a list of questions written ahead of time that helps ensure you get the basic facts: who is the patient? Where are they from? What was their diagnosis? How were they treated? When did all of this happen? Who helped them on their journey? But then, probe for details as the interview unfolds. If the patient says, “Dr. Smith really helped me,” ask how. It may uncover that Dr. Smith called the patient to check in on the weekend, or that they spent extra time doing research to uncover another treatment option.
- Have an SEO outline. It’s a safe assumption that your patient story may end up being published online. Having an SEO outline to work towards can help you make sure you’re using key words that potential readers will use to try to find your story when it’s posted.
- Listen with empathy. Patients may find sharing their story to be cathartic, or difficult, or emotionally draining, or all of the above. Treat their information tenderly and compassionately. Offer validation where appropriate.
- Seek the anecdotes. As you talk to the patient and/or their physician or other care team member, seek out anecdotes that will make the story richer and help the reader to connect with it. Perhaps a family member brought the patient a special delivery in the hospital. Maybe the patient is now enjoying a new hobby or rediscovering a beloved one they haven’t done in a while. Or maybe there’s a story involving the family pet. People love pets, you know 😊.
To find the anecdotes, try questions like:
- Can you tell me a story from your care journey of when you perhaps felt hopeful, happy or loved?
- Do you have a favorite story from when you were in recovery or in the hospital?
- How did you get through tough times? Who helped? What was helpful?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll love hearing firsthand of some of the accounts of care that shape your hospital or healthcare system. It not only helps shape a sound marketing strategy, it’s a great reminder of what you do and why you do it.