» Connecting the Power of Writing with the Practice of Medicine

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Quality Rankings Won’t Make Your Hospital Shine



Newsflash: Quality is not a differentiator in healthcare.

Your patients expect your hospital to offer the highest quality in patient care, safety and cleanliness.

Awards saying that you have those things don’t matter to them.


They thought you already did.

When I read Seth Godin’s blog post, Misunderstanding Quality, I immediately thought how appropriate it is for hospital communicators. Even though he’s talking about Kodak and Polaroid, the underlying theme of misunderstanding what people want applies to our industry.

As we move from “heads in beds” to population management, and patients are forced to think about healthcare decisions (rather than simply going where their doctor tells them to), understanding what quality means to your population becomes an increasingly important part of the conversation.

So, what do your patients care about? Here are a few examples of what we think makes a hospital stand out:

Swapping recipes. Baylor Health Care System has shared more than 200 recipes with followers on Pinterest. This is a great way to show followers that you care about their health.

Virtual tours. Going to a hospital can be intimidating. Sharing a virtual tour of your campus like Cleveland Clinic can help patients feel more familiar.

Brand journalism. Advocate Health Care defines what brand journalism is really all about: Providing health news your patients can use. Its website is updated with infographics, snappy blog posts and health tips.


Posted by Christy Pretzinger, President & CEO

The Power of the Patient Story

I won’t buy mascara or a vacuum cleaner without first reading reviews (called “testimonials” in the olden days). Increasingly, consumer reviews are a powerful influence on consumer decision making despite the fact that reviewers are relatively anonymous, usually identified only by a first name.

Smart healthcare marketers recognize and participate in the review trend. That includes optimizing your organization’s report cards, patient satisfaction ratings and performance on third-party reviewing systems. But don’t neglect another “review” tool at your disposal and more within your control: the patient story.

The Purpose
Patient stories on your website or in your organization’s publications are free advertising – but more powerful than advertising. Consumers tend to be skeptical about advertising, figuring you can pay to say whatever you want without always factoring in the truth. If they see a person or a patient – identified by full name, city and a photograph – offering details about superb, compassionate care from your hospital or clinic, they will probably regard it less skeptically.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the word “testimonial.” However, the definition of testimonial is valuable when considering patient stories. According to Merriam-Webster, testimony means “firsthand authentication of a fact or open acknowledgement.” Of course you recognize the significance of authenticity, of real and true accounts of patients’ experiences with your hospital or clinic. These kind of stories engage prospective patients and draw them to your hospital or clinic.

The Message
What makes an authentic patient story? I think it has to do with being able to pull out the important details of the patient’s experience; really capturing the voice of the patient. Those details – and the authentic voice of the patient – help others to relate: to the disease, the diagnosis, the treatment, the recovery, the emotions, the experience, and finally, the hope.

Elements of a strong patient story include:

  • A unique situation or individual.
  • Quotes that are modified and smoothed, not to change the meaning, but to show the patient in a favorable light. These should never read (or sound) as if they’re rehearsed or manufactured.
  • A compelling story line that isn’t overly dramatic.
  • A journalistic style of writing.
  • Interspersed narrative and quotes.

Previously, I said a patient story is free advertising. To that end, preparing a story should entail the same attention that you give to creating an advertisement. Just as there is a process for creating an ad campaign, there is a process for creating effective patient stories:

  • Close, frequent contact with providers – including nurses – to identify potential stories.
  • Patient interview (can be by phone) by a skilled professional who knows the right questions to ask in order to gather interesting details that will differentiate the story.
  • Careful, professional writing.
  • Photography if the patient does not have high-quality, appropriate photos to share.
  • A formal review process that includes verifying the facts with the healthcare provider, and a careful review by the patient. The patient should sign all legal release forms, and indicate that s/he understands the implications of sharing medical information in publications, on your website and through social media.
  • At least annual proactive review of stories to ensure they are current and relevant, including contacting providers to check patient health, and checking with patients to verify their decision to continue participating.

The Right Medium
Patient stories can be written, video or both. It’s important to provide information to patients and potential patients in mediums where they are receptive to your messages. Some people prefer reading stories; others would rather watch a video. Some patients may be uncomfortable appearing in a video but will give an interview for a print story. Videos require a script and rehearsal, necessitate more staff time and are more expensive to produce; however, video is playing an increasingly strong role in SEO, so you’ll need to weigh that cost with other factors. But remember, if you choose to offer video, be sure you have the technology to back it up. Some website visitors will abandon watching a video if it takes too long to download or endlessly buffers.

Your budget and time may dictate your options. Both forms of stories can be pushed out via social media for maximum exposure.

The Mission – Yours
The well-done patient story is a remarkably effective marketing tool. The stories are out there. It’s your job to find and use them as reviews to authenticate your hospital or clinic’s value and attract patients looking for medical expertise.

Posted by Melissa Abrams, WriterGirl Associate

Four Ways to Cut Costs by Repurposing Content

You probably have a LOT of content in your vault. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that much of that content can be easily repurposed across other channels. Not only does this save you time and money (and makes you look like a rock star in your boss’s eyes), but it’s also a way to keep giving out great info to your patients. Provided it’s not too old, this content is like gold to your organization.

When properly directed (and that direction is key), your staff and/or outsourced writers can simply use stories or content that is already vetted and fact-checked as source content for entirely new pieces. That means they have more time to focus on updating time-sensitive content or editing new content.

Patient stories
Patient stories provide an excellent means of repurposing content. Perhaps your website provides a few quotes from a patient who had a fast recovery as a result of a new minimally invasive procedure. Why not use a photo and some additional quotes from that same patient for a waiting room tri-fold, to further elaborate on how that procedure is becoming an option for many patients? This repurposing saves you considerable time and money because you’re not starting from scratch with a brand-new patient. (And it promotes your profitable minimally invasive procedure at the same time. You are officially a rock star.)

Physician bios
The experts in your organization have stories to tell, and your patients enjoy knowing more about the people taking care of them. Writing a full-length bio for your expert physicians will save you time and money in the long run, because you can quickly extract key sentences for future needs such as press releases, newsletters, emails, annual reports and web articles. (And because this isn’t our first rodeo, WriterGirl knows how difficult it can be to get those bios done. We have a process for that, if you’re interested in learning more.)

What to expect during a hospital visit
The website data we’ve seen from hospitals indicates that patients like this content. That make sense: Going to the hospital for just about any sort of procedure is intimidating at best, frightening at the worst. So it’s helpful to have something to read that tells you what to expect, what to bring, what you can and can’t eat before your procedure and so on. And with readmissions becoming an ever-hotter topic in terms of hospital revenue, those instructions on what to do after a procedure are vital.

It can be fairly simple to do some research and learn what information is being distributed to patients. Then, it becomes a matter of duplicating that online and in your print collateral. Once you have the universal patient instructions, copying and pasting that information for all mediums can take you far less time, and give you an excellent means to fill white space.

Awards and recognition
Your content vault is probably richly stocked with useful nuggets of impressive, reusable content. Keep up to date with each department’s quarterly awards and recognitions, both in clinical and research settings. Remember to include grant awards as well as donor gifts. You might consider pulling patient testimonials in with some of your awards content, highlighting the unique and compelling aspects of patient care in your organization.

Remember, repurposing your content is anything but lazy. As long as you bring a fresh eye, your existing content is a gold mine for keeping your materials updated and interesting. (And your boss will thank you when you present all the cost savings!)

Posted by Christy Pretzinger, President & CEO

Build Loyalty by Providing Online Health and Wellness Information

You get a rash, and you look online for pictures to self-diagnose. Your child has a fever and a cough, and you look at an online symptom checker to decide if you need to visit a clinic. Your husband is urinating more frequently than normal at night, and you search the Internet to figure out the cause. The Internet has replaced Dr. Spock’s iconic parenting book – second only to the Bible in sales for 50 years – and every other traditional health information source in the home. Consumers have limitless sources at their fingertips once they hit return in a search bar. Why not make your hospital or clinic the one they bookmark and rely upon?

Of course that means providing information about the “big diseases and conditions” your specialists treat – things that differentiate you from competitors. Chances are good that your organization already has this on your website. But it also means providing information about health and wellness and “the little” things patients face – things that may not bring patients through your door.

Your clinic or hospital shouldn’t expect immediate gains from being patients’ go-to source for health and wellness information. Over time, you stand to gain loyalty and trust. It’s likely that people who come to depend on you for regular advice and guidance online will turn to you when they have a need that requires medical attention. (It’s important to have a well-constructed website that makes easy, obvious connections between health information and treatment resources.)

You can promote your brand website’s health and wellness offerings in myriad ways including through social media, by inviting patients to register in a personal health portal and sign up for alerts about various topics, on phone waiting messages, through nurse help lines and during face-to-face visits with providers.

Let’s say a 50-year-old patient sees a provider for an annual exam and asks about menopause symptoms. The provider has the opportunity, while the patient is in the exam room, to pull up information about menopause on a computer or iPad, talk through the information together and offer to print it for the patient or write down the site address for her. This is a chance to show your brand’s Web presence to the patient and help imprint it as a source of information. Then, when the patient is at home and her 21-year-old son mentions he might have allergies, the patient is more likely to visit your website to check symptoms and possible over-the-counter remedies.

If your hospital or clinic has procrastinated about adding health and wellness information to your website – self-care advice, healthy recipes, exercise tips, condition-specific blogs and so much more – delay no longer. It’s what patients expect, and they’ll get it somewhere else if you don’t offer it. Don’t let your competition beat you to the punch.

Posted by Melissa Abrams, WriterGirl Associate

Five Healthcare Marketing Leaders You Should Follow Today

As a content expert for WriterGirl and healthcare editor for Ragan Communications, I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Here are a few people that have changed the way I think about healthcare marketing:

Chris Boyer
His name equals ROI. Boyer is the AVP of digital strategy for Northshore/LIJ Health System in New York and his goal for hospital communicators is this: prove what you’re doing is actually working. When you follow Boyer, you’ll pick up some great links about how to measure, what to measure and why you should keep doing it.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson
It’s a tough call: do I enjoy her blog or Twitter feed more? Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson (“Seattle Mama Doc”) made a name for herself in the hospital marketing realm because she’s always herself. She’s not tweeting about best hospital marketing practices, but the fact that she’s online is a best marketing practice. Her feed is something you can share with doctors who are skeptical about social media.

Lee Aase
Here’s a man who needs no introduction. But just in case you’re new to the healthcare space, Aase is the director of Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media. He’s not just tweeting about cool stuff going on at Mayo Clinic, though. He’s a leader in #hcsm and always gives shout-outs to his fans and followers at other hospitals.

Susannah Fox
Fox calls herself an “Internet geologist.” And that’s exactly what she is. As a thought-leader at Pew Research, she keeps tabs on the latest news in healthcare social media and shares it with everyone. Insider tip from Fox: mobile.

Dana Lewis
She’s the woman who started it all—she’s the founder of the #hcsm Twitter chats on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. CT. Now, she’s a social media strategist at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Lewis is an #hcsm junkie and is helpful to any newbie getting started in the health social media space.

Posted by WriterGirl Associate

Show … Don’t Tell

During this time of reform, healthcare organizations, like yours, are working to transform and shift from a first curve to second curve healthcare delivery system. As this transformation happens, it’s important for your marketing department to begin to strategically plan for future improvements and progress within your realm of responsibilities and expertise. One significant piece to this puzzle is capitalizing on content initiatives by ensuring you are giving examples to illustrate your points to your audience. It’s great and wonderful that you are ranked by U.S. News & World Report, but show us why. That is what is relevant to the prospective patient. Tell stories, share statistics, use video, give healthy tips, etc. There are many other industry trends and best practices for key content initiatives for the 2014 fiscal year that encourage the move toward achieving curve two metrics:

Social Media – Social media continues to be a relevant and valuable channel for marketing and communicating, and to that end, WriterGirl recommends continuing and even increasing your current efforts.

Find-a-Doc Physician Bios – It is crucial that your physicians are visible, accessible and connected with the community as consumers have more decision-making power over their healthcare needs. One way to bring this to life is through unconventional physician bios. Credentials and publications are certainly important, but striking an emotional connection is even more critical. Including information such as the physician’s care philosophy, their reason for entering into medicine, their weekend hobbies and interesting news about their families allows potential patients to engage with the human side of the physician at the moment of decision making. Effective physician bios can be a tipping point.

Brand Journalism Website – Much like the Health Hub from Cleveland Clinic, a recent industry trend is to use news-like content to build brand loyalty, discuss hot topics and share relevant wellness and preventive health information. These websites use your assets (hospitals, services, people, research, technologies) to tell real stories and give factual information (news with your spin) rather than marketing. This is a valuable addition to any organization’s digital suite.

Physician Website – We all know how critical physician alignment is within healthcare reform. Fresh content on your physician website is beneficial to this group’s digital asset in numerous ways:

  • Attracting and recruiting top physician talent
  • Increasing and strengthening your referral network
  • Expanding visibility of your physicians to patients
  • Highlighting the uniqueness of your key organizational commitments and philosophies


Posted by Reba Thompson, Director of Business Development

Three Things Patients Want to See on Your Website

As hospital marketers, we often think that the most important content on our website is about US… how great our services are, all the awards we’ve won, why we’re the best at everything. (I know that’s a bit of hyperbole, but anyone who’s ever worked with a world-renown physician knows that’s sometimes all you get: “I’m the best at this.”)

While differentiating content about your services and physicians is vital, it’s not the most frequently visited content on your website. Let’s take a look at what is.

Location Information
While you may not be surprised to learn that the most frequently visited pages are those with location information – including phone numbers, addresses and parking information – now you need to consider HOW your users are finding that information on your website. Recent statistics show that mobile usage has increased by at least 70 percent over the past three years. So what does that mean for you?

Your website needs to be mobile friendly, whether you have a mobile-first strategy in place (or in planning) or are using responsive design. No matter your approach, if you want to create a good user experience, you need to make sure that maps and directions are fewer than three clicks away on a mobile device, enabling users to quickly navigate to the hospital campus while en route.

Writing for mobile is different than writing for the web. While there are numerous resources available online to help you get started (this is a good one), it also helps to have a partner with expertise in writing for mobile. And as you might expect, WriterGirl excels at this.

Find a Doctor
Whether a patient is seeking a new doctor, or simply trying to locate their current doctor, your Find a Doctor information is key to driving revenue. As with location information, your Find a Doctor information needs to be easily accessible from a mobile device. Since this information should be housed on a database, proper programming is key to a good user experience. In addition, physician contact information – especially telephone numbers – needs to be handled in a mobile-friendly manner so users can simply click the number and call.

Consistent physician bios are a part of any good Find a Doctor information. While creating those consistent bios can be a daunting task, once you get it done the first time, it becomes a matter of updating it with new physicians and new information.

Forms/ What to Bring
Most organizations encourage their patients to save time by completing forms prior to an appointment or hospital procedure. Since most patients will visit this section of your site when directed to do so, it’s important that it be user-friendly and easy to navigate. (This is one place where – as of this writing – a mobile strategy takes a back seat.)

While the goal of this page is to get patients to complete forms in advance, it also offers an opportunity to promote other services in which your patients may have interest. This page should include general information on what to bring for a hospital stay and what to expect upon arrival, as well as general information about outpatient procedures. Since patients will arrive at this page in order to complete a variety of forms for numerous office and hospital visits, the information should be general, but can point patients towards more specific information via helpful links.

Your website consists of dozens, if not hundreds, of pages of content, all of which is relevant to some part of your audience. So while these three areas are vital to most of your users, they’re only a small part of a much larger content strategy.

Posted by Christy Pretzinger, President & CEO

What Does Your Digital Presence Say About You?

Your digital presence, or the way that your organization is represented online, is already bigger than you think. But it might not be the presence you were hoping for. Mobile devices give patients and caregivers unlimited access to online resources such as rating sites that often take the place of word-of-mouth referrals. Ratings can be overwhelmingly good, or can teeter on the side of terrible.

Take Healthgrades, for example. Healthgrades is an online rating site that allows consumers, physicians, and hospitals to find out information about each other. Patients can log on and take a survey to rate physicians and hospitals on service aspects like ease of scheduling appointments, total wait times and friendliness of staff.  Physicians and hospitals can update information on the Healthgrades site to have more control over their profiles. But do they?

The truth is, many organizations are just awakening to the impact of these rating sites. If your rating site profile has incorrect information or someone gives you a bad rating, your organization could be negatively impacted. Broadening your marketing focus to include monitoring rating site reputation will help ensure positive feedback.

What to do? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Update your organization’s information on Google Places
  • Make sure any local listings for your organization showcase the services you provide and any other information you want to share
  • Research review sites and ensure all of your information is updated and correct
  • Respond to negative patient reviews
  • Create your own online community
  • Ask your patients to share their exceptional experiences with you online

According to the Pew Internet survey The Social Life of Health Information, “as broadband and mobile access spreads, more people have the ability – and increasingly, the habit – of sharing what they are doing and thinking. In healthcare, this translates to people tracking their workout routines, posting reviews of their medical treatments and raising awareness about certain health conditions.”

Information is power. Own yours.

Written by WriterGirl & Associates

Posted by Reba Thompson, Director of Business Development

Three Hospital Websites That ‘Do it Right’ and Why

Let’s face it: hospital websites blur together. They all offer the same stuff.

What makes a hospital stand-out isn’t the pretty design or easy navigation. What keeps me going back to a hospital website is meaningful content. Here are three that offer the patient something different:

Cleveland Clinic
Going to a hospital for the first time can be downright scary. That’s why Cleveland Clinic decided to offer virtual tours of all its major buildings. You can zoom-in and zoom-out of the pictures and take a 360 view of what each place offers. By the time a patient gets to Cleveland Clinic, they’ll know what to expect.

Advocate Health Care
Advocate Health Care became its own news source. Partnering with Ragan Communications, the team created healthenews, a website that defines “brand journalism.” The website is centered on wellness news and tips for patients. It doesn’t churn out press releases for journalists. Instead, they give journalists what they want: stories that they can actually use. In fact, this one has been picked up by CNN.

Boston Children’s Hospital
Thriving is a blog that is all about the families that come to the hospital. The stories here can make you laugh or cry, depending on the entry. What makes this a robust blog is that it isn’t just written by healthcare communicators. There’s a variety of voices: doctors, patients and parents who all contribute. When you read it, you don’t feel like you’re being “marketed” to. You just feel like you’re reading great stories.

Posted by WriterGirl Associate