7 journalistic techniques for crafting exceptional patient stories

Do your homework, use a recording device or app, have a fluid conversation and—most of all—listen intently to your interviewee, and you’ll write compelling accounts of their experiences.

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Getting a truly engaging patient story is a top marketing goal for most health care providers, but it’s often easier said than done.

It can be challenging to get patients to say more than, “The service was great,” or, “I love Dr. So-and-So,” leaving you with very little to work into a compelling story.

The secret to telling authentic patient stories is to stop being a marketer and start being a journalist. Stop thinking about selling, and start thinking about how to objectively tell a patient’s story in the most compelling way.

Here are seven journalistic techniques that’ll help you get out of your marketer mindset and into the head of a reporter:

1. Always be prepared. Journalists don’t automatically know what to ask their interviewees. Top journalists consistently do their homework. Before every patient interview, find out everything you can about the patient’s service experience and why you’re interviewing that specific person. Then prepare a list of questions you plan to ask, whether handwritten in a notebook, in Google Docs, Evernote or some other favorite tool. It’s absolutely OK to deviate from your questions during the interview, but set up a batch of queries as a foundation.

2. Ask open-ended questions. When preparing your list, avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Your interview experience is going to go so much better if you say things like, “tell me about your first time meeting Dr. So-and-So,” compared with, “Did like Dr. So-and-So?” Your patient’s answers to open-ended questions will often lead to new, enlightening questions.

3. Make the interview a conversation. When interviewing the patient, don’t robotically run through your list of questions. For the patient, that’s an awkward, uncomfortable process. By making the interview a naturally flowing conversation, you’ll get the patient to open up more about the experience they had at your facility. You might say things like, “Oh, tell me more about that,” or, “Can we go back to what you were telling me about xyz? That sounded so interesting.”

4. Use a recording device. It’s extremely difficult to make the interview a conversation if you’re scribbling notes the whole time, and it’s nearly impossible to get things 100 percent accurate if you’re just taking notes. Plus, you’ll ask far better follow-up questions, because you won’t be focused on writing everything down. Record your interviews whenever possible, whether using a digital recorder or an app on your smartphone.

5. Be smart about your interview location . There’s rarely the perfect location for an interview, so focus on locations with as little background noise as possible so you get the cleanest audio. Also, make sure the location is convenient for both parties, especially if your patient has had a procedure that makes getting around difficult.

6. Tell the story back to the subject. Nailing all the details as accurately as possible is crucial to telling your patient’s story, so verify the specifics they’ve just told you. You don’t have to run through everything word for word, but it’s important to confirm that you understand what they’ve told you and that you have the facts correct.

7. Have humility. When telling anyone’s story, remember that they know their experience best. The optimal strategy for interviewing a patient is to listen. Don’t finish sentences for them. Don’t make assumptions about what they’re trying to tell you. And don’t think about what you’re going to say next rather than absorbing what they’re telling you. You’re there to listen to their story.

With these techniques in your pocket, you’ll start telling more engaging patient stories that’ll build greater awareness for just how stellar your providers’ services are.

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Mika Doyle is a content marketer and features writer with more than a decade of experience in the communications field.


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