Patient Education: Instantly Improve Your Online Content

August 24, 2012

Your online content should be attracting patients to your office. Here’s an almost effortless way of improving every piece of communication you produce.

Last week I explained some methods for putting fresh, useful content on your website or blog, by answering questions patients have before they arrive at your practice.

By now you should realize how important it is to continuously produce useful articles and blog posts for your medical practice website. It’s a foundational element of promoting your practice.

This week I’ll share a technique for adding value to your blog or website writing that doesn’t involve dreaming up new topic ideas or stressing over what "new angle" you should come up with to freshen up an old topic.

In fact, you can even go back and add this technique to existing patient education articles for even greater impact.

The technique is conceptually simple, but might surprise you: It’s the concept of storytelling.

In a recent post by John Thomas on storytelling, the author mentions seven reasons why telling stories is important in getting your message across to potential customers, or in your case, patients.

I thought some points were especially relevant for physicians who care about making deeper and more powerful connections with patients.

1. Stories produce experiences

Whenever we hear or read stories, it’s natural for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the main characters involved. My kids imagine they’re Spiderman and the story feeds imagination and even feelings of power or heroism.

As adults, we connect in similar ways, except (usually) with more adult story elements like emotion, empathy for victim characters, and so on.

By adding a story element to your next blog post or patient education article, you pull the patient into the material and this creates an imagined experience in the reader’s mind.

This helps material stick better and makes the author (you) more memorable.

2. Stories help you reveal your unique message

Doctors live in a professional world where what we do has generally become commoditized and devalued.

It’s easy to believe that patients see us as clones of each other -"It doesn’t matter who does your gallbladder; any surgeon can do it."

But you have a unique story that can’t be duplicated or copied: the story of your training, the story of how your group was created, the story of how you chose where to practice, etc.

It’s a mistake to think your story is uninteresting to patients.

That story can be and should be injected into your promotional material somewhere. The most common place this happens on medical practice websites is in the "physician bio" section.

But try injecting small elements of your story into your next blog post. For example, if you’re commenting on a recent news story about your area of expertise, throw in a line at the end that demonstrates your passion for the subject, or why you chose to get into this field in the first place.

3. Stories attach meaning to information

Every physician knows that regurgitating clinical information, even if it’s couched in layman’s terms, is boring.

You can infuse more meaning and emotion into your writing by adding story elements.

The most powerful way of doing this is to make the stories patient-focused. Don’t be afraid to inject comments about the emotional aspects of what you do: What are the emotional results of treatment, healing, a successful procedure, etc.?

If you’re presenting a chart of normally boring data, share a patient treatment story that makes some component of the data come alive with personality and emotion. Your audience will remember the point better if it’s connected to a story.

Of course, remember to be HIPAA-compliant and avoid using real patient names and other identifiers in your online storytelling.

A practical way of adding story to your communication efforts

We all have funny, scary, stressful, emotional stories from our days in training and practice. Finding an appropriate one is a matter of brainstorming in a distraction-free place for several minutes at a time, especially if you don’t tell the stories regularly.

The easiest way of putting stories into your communication is to insert clinically relevant patient anecdotes into your patient education materials.

For example, think of a particular patient who had a clinical problem which clearly illustrates one of your main messages in the article.

If your article is on gallbladder surgery, insert a quick story of your patient who had a complication because they ignored their symptoms.

You can’t put one of these after every paragraph in an article, but one or two will liven up any content you create.

Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.