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STORYTELLING IN HEALTHCARE: CONNECT AND ENGAGE WITH PEOPLE SEEKING CARE


A good story is fundamentally appealing. Stories stimulate the brain and evoke emotion. They have the power to influence our views of the world.

In this article, we will highlight why storytelling is important in healthcare. Before we delve into that, let us briefly examine the role of storytelling in marketing. According to Hubspot, the leading CRM and inbound marketing platform, “Storytelling is the process of using facts and narrative to communicate something to your audience. Some stories are factual, and some are embellished or improvised to better explain the core message.”

The importance of storytelling in marketing lies in the fact that it makes your customers care and helps build trust and loyalty by humanizing the brand.

Why is storytelling important in healthcare?

Now that we have briefly seen how storytelling can enrich a brand in general, let us focus on the importance of storytelling in healthcare.

More often than not, health content focuses on medical jargon, credentials, and facts. Healthcare marketers frequently regress into their medical comfort zones in an effort to win over patients and prospects by highlighting that they are well-equipped to deliver what they promise.

However, with conventional healthcare communications, often, the core message gets lost. This is where a good narrative comes into the picture. In healthcare, storytelling can make your message lucid enough for your target audience, besides adding appeal to your content and building brand loyalty.

For instance, a patient with obesity and a family history of diabetes walks into a clinic. Let us examine two possible scenarios:

Scenario A: The healthcare professional hands the individual a leaflet stating the dangers of pre-diabetes and focusing on the importance of following a proper diet plan and exercise.

Scenario B: The healthcare professional describes to the individual the case of another patient who, out of embarrassment about taking their grandchild swimming, started a fitness regimen that helped them feel better and lose 17% of their body weight, which has reportedly reduced the incidence of Type 2 diabetes by 85%.

Without a doubt, scenario B has a higher chance of striking a chord with the patient, motivating the person to initiate lifestyle changes for better health.

The Science behind Storytelling

We are intrinsically wired to react to stories. Research has found physiological and psychological involvement that substantiates the power of stories to inspire action. Stories create empathy for the character in a film or book, recreating the emotion. The mirror neurons in the brain play a part in eliciting this response. Mirror neurons light up when a person performs an action while also observing others execute the same action, claims News Medical.

It is believed that emotional intelligence, learning, and empathy are significantly influenced by the mirroring of behaviors and emotions. However, the neurobiological impact of stories goes deeper.

One research study utilized emotionally engaging video narratives and a synthetic form of the neurochemical oxytocin (AKA the “love hormone”) to delve into its power to influence behavior. Participants in this study were administered synthetic oxytocin or placebo intranasally an hour before watching empathy-inducing public service announcement videos. Those who received oxytocin were observed to donate 56% more money to charity than participants who received the placebo. Other studies that measured the levels of hormones such as oxytocin, cortisol, and ACTH in the blood before and after exposure to high-impact narratives found elevated levels of these markers that spurred empathetic action. Research that measured cardiac activity (using an ECG), sweating, and vagus nerve involvement in producing oxytocin while watching an emotionally compelling video revealed similar findings.

In healthcare, you can simultaneously put your message across and connect emotionally with your target audience based on how well you weave a story. Making an emotional connection with your audience can aid in building brand loyalty and brand recall.

Storytelling styles: Connecting with your audience

It is not just consumers and patients who are moved by storytelling. Healthcare professionals and scientists have intellectual and emotional connections to compelling stories as well. The quantity of information that healthcare professionals get on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Medical material must therefore be succinct, well-written, and pertinent to their experiences if it is to effectively reach them. For a healthcare provider, scientific storytelling can help to establish thought leadership, authority, expertise, and trust.

Now, let us focus on the tried and tested storytelling styles that strike a chord with the audience.

  • Telling ‘people’ stories and not just ‘patient’ stories: Patient stories are tried and tested. An effective patient story highlights your high-quality care or demonstrates how your novel medical approaches have improved outcomes. Still, there are other "people" stories to take into account:

  1. Founder Stories: Tell the story of your company by highlighting how it was formed and the extraordinary people who made it happen. Find an interesting story angle to portray the founder(s) as interesting, real-life "characters" in their story.

  2. Staff Stories: By retelling a patient's narrative from the perspective of a doctor or nurse, you might present a new viewpoint. Or mention the scientists who developed a breakthrough drug or the engineers who created ground-breaking new equipment. Focus on the "why" of the researchers and designers, their enthusiasm for their initiatives, and how they serve patients rather than just using data. After giving the information a human spin, you can offer supporting evidence.

  • Visual Stories are more in demand: According to a survey by Contently, 75% of marketers believe that visuals in the content increase the ROI. According to Contently, adding more infographics and animated videos might help a brand come off as more trustworthy. They discovered through their research that video-based content is eight times more compelling than just written information.

  • Blogging: According to a consumer study, 87% of patients go online to research medical conditions and diagnoses. A good health and wellness blog on your website can be the key to reaching millions who rely on the internet for medical information. But even while you are positioning yourself as a reliable healthcare expert, keep in mind that blogs are also a place to tell human stories, highlight your brand personality and create an emotional connection that will make readers want to come back for more.

The elements of storytelling: How to craft compelling stories

A strong narrative has a clear framework, an engaging message, and a human element. It is not merely a compilation of facts or statistics. An effective story has an opening, a middle section, and a conclusion. The opening establishes the situation, introduces the main characters, explains the issue, and grabs the reader's interest. Midway through the story, the climax is developed, the difficulties and solutions are demonstrated, and emotions are raised. The conclusion solves the issue, discloses the result and the lesson learned, and invites the audience to take a stand or engage in some introspection. A good story also contains a strong message or theme that connects to your brand's vision and values and to the desires and objectives of your audience.

When imparting medical information, storytelling frequently touches the listener's emotions, holds their attention, and elicits questions, remarks, and verbal exchanges. In the end, there is more awareness and understanding, and the listener is more likely to recall and use the information.

Additionally, medical success stories that promote empathy, compassion, and cooperation are powerful and encouraging. A positive patient experience is generally supported by storytelling.

The basic elements of storytelling or how to craft compelling stories:

  • The fundamental elements of a story: Almost all stories will include the following:

1. Setting - A general backdrop where the story takes place

2. Character or characters - There has to be at least one central character around whom the story is spun.

3. Plot - The plot encompasses the core storyline along with the objectives and the conflicts that need to be addressed to achieve the desired objectives.

  • Keeping it real: Besides the routine clinical experiences of doctors that make for fascinating stories, the journey of patients can also be crafted into interesting stories. For example, if someone was diagnosed with rare cancer and was treated successfully, it would make a great ‘real-life’ narrative, both from the patient’s and the doctor’s perspective. Such stories usually highlight the patient’s challenges, grit, and determination to fight, and finally, how they see the light at the end of the tunnel. Such ‘real-life’ stories present information and purpose that other patients can relate to..

  • All's well that ends well: Dry or monotonous information would fail to find an audience. People seek medical information out of concern over their symptoms. Therefore, positive stories and narratives of patients who faced similar conditions and recovered can help capture and hold their interest.

4. A healthcare story should include emotions and feelings, such as challenges to overcome and joy over a successful outcome.

Finding Story Ideas

In healthcare, using narratives can help you persuade audiences on difficult or delicate subjects, including potential outcomes, treatment alternatives, or health dangers. Additionally, storytelling can help to define your business identity, set yourself apart from competitors, and cultivate a loyal follower base, and brand advocates.

In order to effectively reach the consumer, stories should be relatable. They should hold meaning for the audience and not just be about your brand.

Story ideas are all around you. You just need to identify and build around them. There may be story ideas in your personal experience, your team's accomplishments, the testimonies of your patients, the opinions of your partners, or the problems and trends in your sector. In order to illustrate the value proposition or solutions, you may also develop tales based on fictitious situations or case studies. You need to be inquisitive, perceptive, and attentive in order to find stories. You must actively listen, capture details, and ask questions. You must seek narratives that are fascinating, pertinent, and significant to your audience and brand. Incorporating big data and analytics can be vital in this regard. While data might be available in abundance, the challenge lies in streamlining it and putting it to good use. The new insights that result from it need to be transformed into more pertinent storytelling that appeals to clients and patients. What is crucial is to identify the aspects that make a difference in people’s lives and deliver appropriate content at various stages in the patient’s journey, be it before, during, or after they seek care. This "capturing" must be done across all media types, including traditional, social media, and personal interactions.

Measuring and improving your stories

As important as storytelling is, in today’s super competitive healthcare market, it alone cannot add value to the brand since people are looking for quantifiable results.

For quantifiable results, you have to measure the impact and effectiveness of the stories you tell.

Let us briefly review how you can measure the success of the stories you tell your target audience:

  • For measuring the effectiveness of your stories, set clear goals and indicators.

  • You can evaluate a story using qualitative or quantitative indicators. Qualitative measurements include awareness, perception, satisfaction, loyalty, or advocacy, whereas quantitative measurements can be reach, engagement, conversion, retention, and revenue.

  • For evaluating the performance, the emotional reaction that a story elicits, such as intrigue, curiosity, empathy, enthusiasm, or inspiration, can also be used as a metric.

  • This exercise provides insight into what works and what does not, enabling you to optimize the approach that suits you the best.

The power of storytelling, if done right, can set your brand apart, motivate action, and promote growth.

In Conclusion

Storytelling is a skill that can be mastered and utilized as a powerful communication tool. When developed and used with intention, storytelling can promote connection and inclusion, boost self-esteem, and effect change.

Inculcating a storytelling culture could hugely benefit your brand, where all employees throughout the hierarchy adopt the shared objective of identifying and creating compelling stories. There are basically three elements to keep in mind.

  • Employees need to have a shared value system and understanding to tell a story that resonates with their target audience. Simply put, it is important to create a storytelling mindset.

  • Once the mindset is established, it is important to define the various methods and places where the story can be cultivated. To make storytelling easy, accessible, authentic, and shareable, it is necessary to have robust processes and data-gathering tools.

  • As discussed above, the final and most vital step is tracking and measuring the success of the stories. Are you using the right platform to publicize your brand story? Is the message resonating with your target audience? Do you have a USP in your story that would spark interest? These are a few questions you should ask while analyzing the success or failure of your storytelling strategy.

To learn more about tried and tested storytelling tactics, rely on a content partner who knows the healthcare sector inside out. Mya Digital’s team of medical content writers and editors can give the right voice to your healthcare stories, helping you connect with your target audience with powerful narratives. Get in touch to learn more.

References:

  • https://researchinvolvement.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40900-021-00305-x

  • https://healthcaretransformers.com/healthcare-business/strategy-and-operations/mastering-the-art-of-storytelling-in-healthcare-for-success/

  • https://www.health.org.uk/sites/default/files/Using-storytelling-in-health-care-improvement.pdf

  • https://healthcaresuccess.com/blog/healthcare-marketing/healthcare-storytelling-marketing-magic.html

  • https://www.panfoundation.org/crafting-an-effective-story-how-to-share-your-healthcare-experience/

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