How to Use Storytelling to Enhance Your Healthcare Content

How to Use Storytelling to Enhance Your Healthcare Content

By Carrie DagenhardFeb 26 /2015

Healthcare ContentSeated outside a bustling downtown cafe, just a few steps from her physician’s office, Jane Smith retrieves a prescription slip from her bag, flips the cover off her iPad and enters a short Google query. Like more than half of consumers in the U.S., Jane uses the internet to research her medications. “I trust my doctor,” she says. “But I think it’s important to educate myself as well.”

About 67 percent of U.S. consumers rely on online sources when researching medications, according to global research firm ORC Social Buzz.

Pop quiz: Which of the above paragraphs was a more enticing and interesting read?

Something tells me it’s the story about Jane. Why? Because information is easier to process, and more enjoyable, when it’s presented in the form of a story. Like Mary Poppins’ spoonful-of-sugar trick, stories make difficult concepts more delightful and easier to swallow. Moreover, stories make people care about topics that, otherwise, may have never entered their mind.

We hear a lot about storytelling in the marketing world, but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start—particularly in an industry challenged by privacy laws and steadfast regulations.

Here are our top three suggestions for strengthening the impact of your healthcare content using storytelling:

Let Readers Fill in the Blanks

Storytelling is powerful because it doesn’t give people the facts in an orderly list, it forces them to infer the facts for themselves—which leads to greater comprehension. While you shouldn’t leave giant gaping holes in your plotline, it’s most helpful to tell the story in a way that guides the reader to the desired action—logically—instead of telling them what you want them to do.

Take a cue from Pixar writer and director Andrew Stanton—the mastermind behind “Toy Story” and “WALL-E.” In his popular TED talk, Stanton discusses the importance of building a story in a way that forces the reader to deduce and deduct without realizing they’re doing any critical thinking.

“Make the audience put things together,” Stanton says. “Don't give them four, give them two plus two.”

For example, instead of telling patients they need to sign up for a login to your electronic health record (EHR) technology, share the benefits of instantly accessing their medical information anywhere and anytime. Explain how patient portal systems offers patients transparency in their care, give examples of situations in which an EHR would be most convenient and offer utilization tips and best practices. After reading this content, your patients will feel naturally compelled to sign up and, even better, they’ll have a thorough understanding of the technology.

Put Your Reader in the Story

Humans are inherently self-interested. So, the best way to make your audience care about something is to make it about them. Prepare a scenario that might be familiar to your persona. Then, set the stage using descriptive details and second-person voice.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a piece about needle phobia, and why it’s important to share this concern with your doctor. In this case, you might use the following anecdote:

Seated upon the cold aluminum table of your new physician’s exam room, you listen as a wall clock softly marks each second. Tick. Tick. Tick. Anxiety surges from the pit of your stomach through your limbs as the sound of footsteps on linoleum grow closer and closer. You brace yourself for the sight of the nurse’s cart, full of empty plastic vials and hypodermic needles, surely waiting in the hall. The door cracks, and a smiling woman in a stark white coat greets you with an extended hand. No cart. Your shoulders immediately drop in relief. 

“I’m Doctor Smith,” she says. “I know you’re a little nervous today. I completely understand.” She rolls up a stool and sits, facing you. “I’ve got a few ideas to help make this a better experience today.”

Use Real Situations

When it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, credibility is everything. From your online reviews to the competency of your front desk staff, your prospects have several interactions with your brand before they even see a physician. The best way to put prospective patients at ease, and shine a positive light on your company, is to publish patient stories.

If you were marketing a retail company or tech business, sharing exact experiences and quotes from real end-users would be a simple solution. In the world of healthcare marketing, though, it’s not as simple. Instead, you have to get creative. (That’s OK, though. If you’re a marketer, creativity is in your blood.)

Here’s the best way to approach patient spotlights:

  • Find current patients with whom you have a positive relationship. Also, choose people who are most willing to share their background and experience. Make it clear their privacy will be protected, and be sure to change their name and any identifying details so as not to violate HIPAA.

  • Second, ask your patients to provide as much information as possible. What concerns did they face before their visits? What were the most positive aspects of the experience? How has life changed since their procedure or treatment?

  • Make the patient the protagonist—not the doctor. Position patients as heroes who overcame challenges with the support of your organization. Again, keep in mind people are self-interested and will be looking to see themselves in the patient.

In healthcare, as in any industry, there are plenty of storytelling opportunities. All it takes is a keen eye and a knack for detail. By sharing information in the form of an enticing narrative, rather than a stuffy white paper, you’re likely to garner more attention, engagement and a greater understanding of the subject matter you’re seeking to share.

The Author

Carrie Dagenhard

Carrie is a seasoned content strategist who worked as a department editor and music journalist before making her foray into inbound marketing as a content analyst. Carrie works hard at crafting the perfect content strategy for clients and using her hard-hitting journalism skills to tell your brand’s unique story.