Tell the Story When Marketing your Healthcare Practice

Many of those in the medical and healthcare industry has moved on from stale marketing techniques that are no longer as effective as they once were, such as advertising in the yellow pages, TV, or sending direct mail flyers.

According to a report by Demand Metric, 86% of people ignore TV advertisements, and 44% ignore direct mail. The report also shows that online content marketing yields approximately three times as many leads as traditional marketing and costs 62% less.

Like every other industry, the medical community’s target audience is now searching online for information and solutions to their healthcare problems. According to another report compiled by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 72% of internet users say they looked online for health-related information of one kind or another within the past year, including how to find a doctor near them who can help them with a specific healthcare concern.

student, typing, keyboard Photo by StartupStockPhotos on Pixabay

However, simply showing up online isn’t enough, even if you’re pouring a substantial amount of your marketing dollars into ads on Facebook or Google to promote your specialty or your practice. The stakes are high for reaching prospective patients who suffer from health problems that you know you could help them solve. These patients and their loved ones have urgent needs and concerns, are looking for a doctor or medical practice they can trust, one that has helped people just like them.

Despite all the noisy din of the online world, there’s one marketing tool that stands the test of time for attracting prospective patients’ attention and earning their trust—storytelling. An article in Forbes explains how stories create a “shared experience” from the time we’re born and that we are hard-wired to receive information primarily through storytelling. Storytelling is relatable and compelling and makes for better patient awareness, engagement, and conversion. In fact, an infographic in AdWeek reveals how consumers are even willing to pay more for products and services when those products or services are presented along with a story.

Storytelling touches emotions, engages the patient, and inspires questions, comments, and interaction. Ultimately, patients gain a greater awareness and understanding after reading about another patient’s experience and are then more likely to remember and act on a solution that another patient benefited from. However, the storytelling must be accurate, visually engaging, and interactive as possible to attract and keep prospective patients.

Show, Don’t Tell

In the writing world, there’s a rule that says, “Show, don’t tell.” In other words, to clearly convey what your practice offers and how potential patients would benefit from choosing your practice, paint a picture with a story about a patient by telling about his or her challenges, emotions, and solutions rather than a laundry list of dull, descriptive medical terminology.

Another writing slogan along these lines is, “Facts tell, stories sell.” Here’s one simple example: A vein specialist had been posting on her blog about how she uses the latest laser technology in her varicose vein removal procedures, but she felt that her blog posts were falling on deaf ears. She wasn’t getting calls from new patients, and she didn’t see much growth in the website or Facebook visitors.

Then, she wrote a story about a woman in her 70s who had had an excruciating varicose vein stripping surgery about 20 years ago. She had developed more varicose veins since then, and they were severely limiting her lifestyle because of the pain and swelling they were causing in her legs. She heard that this vein specialist had newer, less painful treatment options and consulted with her about the procedures. After her laser treatment, she raved about how easy this varicose vein procedure was compared to the one she had many years ago and said she wished she’d pursued treatment much sooner because she felt so much better without the constant pain and swelling.

The vein doctor didn’t even need to reveal her name; she referred to her as a “grandmother of four,” which was enough to give the reader context of her age. Her experience alone invited prospective patients to put themselves in her shoes and realize how far medical advances have come and how those treatments might help them as well. The post was shared four times more than another blog post the vein specialist had published, and it remains one of her practice’s most popular for generating new patients. In fact, first-time patients often mention that they read it when they come in for their initial consultation.

Solution Vs. Pain-Based Stories

The vein doctor’s blog post about a happy patient’s experience is a good example of how stories can motivate patients by seeing how another patient like them benefitted by taking action to find a solution. They can envision how a positive outcome might also be possible for them by taking similar action.

On the flip side of solution-based stories are problem-based stories, and these are also powerful. Also referred to as pain or fear-based marketing, problem-based stories illustrate what might happen if a patient doesn’t take action.

Here’s an example: An ophthalmologist had been running a promotion on glaucoma screenings for a month. She knew, of course, that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness and that vision loss often happens before a patient realizes something is seriously wrong. She was continually frustrated by how many patients she saw who already had permanent vision loss beyond repair. Had they come to her sooner, she could have recommended treatments to slow the progression of their disease and prevent permanent vision loss.

Despite the promotion, she didn’t have as many new patients call to sign up for screening as she expected. She had written blog posts on her practice’s website about treatments that can help patients with glaucoma, inspiring a few people who already knew they had the condition and were considering a more proactive approach to managing their condition.

But the real problem was that the majority of potential new patients a) didn’t think they were at risk for glaucoma and b) didn’t know what the consequences would be if they did develop glaucoma but failed to treat it early. So she decided to tell the story of one of her patients who didn’t think he was at risk for glaucoma and, as a result, didn’t get screenings for the condition until he had lost significant vision in one eye.

Without naming him, she told the story of a man in his fifties who came to her after his vision had become uncomfortably blurry. He thought he just needed new glasses and admitted that he hadn’t been to an eye doctor in several years. His age already put him at a higher risk for glaucoma, plus he had a grandparent that had had glaucoma, which also elevated his risk. After performing a comprehensive eye examination, the ophthalmologist detected that he did indeed have glaucoma and that it had, in fact, advanced quite significantly in one eye. When he asked her what could be done to reverse the vision loss, he was experiencing. She had to tell him that while there were steps they could take to slow the progression of the disease, the vision loss he already had was permanent.

She described this whole scenario in her blog post and added that the man then put his head in his hands and said, “I always saw ads or heard people say you should have regular eye examinations to watch for stuff like this, but I never thought it would happen to me. I wish I’d known that it could happen to me and that having eye exams sooner could have saved my eyesight.”

After she posted the blog on her website and promoted it on social media, her front office staff reported a notable increase in new and current patients calling to request a comprehensive eye examination, including screening for glaucoma.

By telling the man’s story, she essentially invited other patients to put themselves in his shoes and take action sooner rather than later. In this case, the story helped her audience understand why not visiting an ophthalmologist might hurt them. Still, in other cases, she may use a patient success story to show how she helped patients save their eyesight with preventative care or restore their eyesight through the most advance, up-to-date surgical procedures.

Just like in the ophthalmologist’s patient story, you don’t need to divulge the patient’s name for the story to be viable; you need to present the scenario. Your potential patient sees a story in the action of how your practice helped someone else, which translates to how it could help them as well.

A woman getting her blood pressure tested Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Built Trust & Loyalty

Storytelling has another psychological benefit for prospective patients as well. When you tell a story about a patient, no matter their unique circumstances, it conveys that you see your patients as people you care for. This may seem like a given to you, but many patients feel like doctors see them as just the numbers on their chart. According to a National Institute of Health survey, up to a third of patients believing that doctors do not truly care about or listen to them. However, when they read about how you understood why a patient was worried about an illness or a procedure and how you helped them find relief, they see that you’re relating to your patients on a personal level.

When patients can relate to their doctors personally, they’re much more likely to stay loyal. In fact, an article in the New York Times relayed how studies have shown for decades that primary care physicians are sued less often if they spend time educating patients about their care, use humor and laugh, or get their patients to talk about their lives and express their opinions. It’s the personal touch, and if you read any online reviews of physicians, you’ll see that it carries through to recommendations and referrals as well.

That’s more important than ever because patients today have a consumer-like attitude regarding choosing—and staying with—their physicians. If they don’t feel connected with their doctor or perceive clear ways that the doctor cares about them, they’re more likely to shop around just like they would for any other service. According to a report by the Altarum Institute Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care, 58% of patients switched doctors for better treatment or service.

home office, workstation, macbook air Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay

Use Blogging As Your Storytelling Platform

Doctors today have a great advantage in that doctor-patient communication and relationship building are no longer confined to an office visit. Medical and healthcare professionals have a unique opportunity to add a personal touch to their practices by blogging. And the blog posts that get the most attention, hands down, are often ones that share patient stories.

Telling stories about patients you’ve helped is what prospective patients will relate to most, and blogging is the perfect platform to deliver these stories. However, many practices don’t blog because they don’t think they have the time, don’t know what to say, or don’t think it makes a difference. In truth, blogging has the powerful potential to grow your practice in various ways, such as:

  • Practices that blog receive 87% more leads than those who do not.
  • A Pricewaterhouse Cooper survey showed that patients said the most trusted healthcare resources online are those posted by physicians and doctors (60%), followed by nurses (56%), and hospitals (55%).
  • Boost your Google ranking. Google rewards websites that consistently post fresh information, and blogging regularly is an easy and effective way to do that.

Put, storytelling by blogging works, particularly if you follow up by promoting the blog post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and any other social media forum you use.

Follow Mayo Clinic’s Lead

If you’re looking for inspiration on sharing patient stories through your practice’s blog, start with Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic does a stellar job of using their blog, Sharing Mayo Clinic, to tell stories in a way that shows how truly caring and innovative the doctors and staff members are. For example, one blog post described how the medical team diagnosed a sporadic autoimmune disease attacking a young woman’s kidneys and how they helped the young patient stabilize and ultimately recover her health.

Another blog post told the story of how a woman came to Mayo Clinic after being told there was no treatment available for her brain aneurysm, causing vision loss and endangering her life. The neurosurgeons she met with at Mayo Clinic were confident that an innovative device newly approved by the Food and Drug Administration could effectively treat the aneurysm, and they were right. The woman is now living a happy, healthy, full life.

Each Mayo Clinic blog post story is presented matter-of-factly, without bragging or back-thumping, and each one creates a human connection that attracts patients in a way that no list of services can. For example, in the case of the woman with a brain aneurysm, would your patients rather read a blog post from a doctor’s perspective about how the newly FDA approved device is designed to target hard-to-reach brain abnormalities or one about a woman who felt hopeless and thought she was going to die any day but now is fully healthy and happy to be alive? Definitely the story. Remember: show, don’t tell; facts tell. Stories sell.

The 4 Key Elements For Effective Storytelling

The Sharing Mayo Clinic blog uses the full names and often quotes from or photos of the patients whose stories they share, but that isn’t required. What is required is that you tell the story of a patient’s experience in a conversational tone, as if you’re talking to a family member or friend, and avoid overusing academic or medical jargon.

Consider Pixar’s story rule #2: You’ve got to keep in mind what’s interesting to your audience, not what’s fun to write about from your perspective. These are two very different approaches. Think about your practice’s specialties or services like a story.

on-page-seoAll good stories have:

  1. A beginning that sets the scene.
  2. A middle that presents the challenge.
  3. An end that reveals the solution.
  4. A progression of emotions.

The beginning should start with the patient and the illness, pain, or health problem. For example, a new mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, or a grandfather has a heart attack.

The middle shows the challenge: how can the new mother continue to care for her baby while receiving treatments, or will surgery allow the grandfather to live long enough to see his grandchildren get married?

The ending resolves the conflict, such as how an innovative new surgery technique spared the mother from months of chemotherapy or how an above-and-beyond approach to surgery and heart health restored the grandfather’s hope for longer life. The ending of the patient stories you tell as a medical practitioner is your key message and will resonate with your audience long after reading the story.

Every compelling story also conveys emotions, and healthcare is certainly fraught with emotions, so be sure to include them in each patient story.

  • How was the patient feels when they first came to you? Scared? Helpless? Confused?
  • How did they feel while you were treating them? Anxious? Hopeful?
  • How did they feel once their pain or illness was resolved or stabilized? Relieved? Grateful? Strong?

Show the progression of their emotions, from scared or worried to hopeful or grateful, and prospective patients will see that they too could go from worried to reassured.

The StoryBrand Framework

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s presented in a book or a film, but not all of us know how to tell a good story. Just like authors and screenwriters, marketers also benefit greatly from following the lead of those who’ve already created successful platforms or frameworks for storytelling. An easy-to-follow marketing framework called StoryBrand is what we use for creating compelling content with clarity. The StoryBrand framework process is applicable for any business, including any medical and healthcare practice.

True to all good storytelling, StoryBrand relies on a hero, a villain, and a guide to demonstrate the value of any product or service. The patient is the hero, their medical problem is the villain, and the doctor or healthcare practitioner is the guide who leads them to health and happiness.

Here’s the general StoryBrand framework:

  1. A patient/hero
  2. Has a problem
  3. And meets a guide
  4. Who has a plan
  5. That calls them to action
  6. That helps them avoid failure
  7. And ends in success

To learn more about why the StoryBrand framework works so well, and to see an example of how it might be applied, read Why Doctors Should Use The StoryBrand Marketing Model To Attract New Patients. You can also attend a StoryBrand Live or Online Workshop.

Key Takeaway

As you consider your marketing strategy to promote your healthcare services, treatments and procedures, rely on storytelling to help you be more persuasive. You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised by how telling one patient’s story in a compelling, relatable, and memorable way results in a new patient calling to see if you can help them, too.

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