During his Ted Talk, science teacher Tyler DeWitt discusses telling stories as a way to share complex information with young students. It isn’t much of a stretch to take his experience and use it as an example of how storytelling in healthcare is an important way to connect with consumers.

Open story book with an illustrated bacterium jumping outAs part of his talk, DeWitt describes being excited to discuss a new lesson plan with his young students. The lesson was about viruses and how they attack bacteria.

After he gave the students time to read the textbook chapter, he asked the class, “Can somebody please explain the main ideas and why this is so cool?” (a leading question if there ever was one). His favorite student explained with the refreshing candor of youth, “I didn’t understand a word of it. It’s boring, who cares, and it sucks.”

This disappointing revelation led DeWitt to another realization: Although the students took notes or memorized definitions from the textbook, none of them really understood the main ideas.

After a few moments of mental floundering he said, “Listen, let me tell you a story.” He went on, “Once upon a time, there was this happy little bacterium. But don’t get too attached to him.”

DeWitt weaves a story about the “happy little bacterium.” It’s the kind of story that most 13-year-olds will find instantly appealing because it includes horror: The bacterium’s skin rips apart! An army of viruses spills out from his insides! And it has intrigue: The virus is a secret agent! The virus engages in espionage!

Best of all, DeWitt gets the students to better understand and remember the two ways that viruses attack bacteria: the lytic way and the lysogenic way. Lesson learned. And a happy ending for all (except the little bacterium).

Storytelling creates emotional ties to a memorable message

If you’re wondering what a group of school students has to do with consumers who visit your website, here are four words that may provide a clue: 8th-grade reading level. Meaning, clear communication and engaging storytelling have nothing to do with age and everything to do with getting your important messages across in an understandable, relatable way.

DeWitt’s Ted Talk underscores one of the realities of healthcare (and by default, healthcare marketing). That is, hospital websites usually place a huge emphasis on credentials, jargon and facts, facts, facts. In an effort to get patients and prospects to trust what the health system has to offer, healthcare marketers often slip into their medical comfort zones.

Fair enough, and even necessary to some degree. But sometimes with traditional healthcare communications, something gets lost. It’s the emotional story that draws in prospects who visit your site. It’s the kind of storytelling in healthcare that can make your message accessible, your services desirable and your brand memorable.

The importance of storytelling in healthcare — starting with your website

Have you ever wept over a heartrending scene in a movie? Or found your anger rising at injustice against a book’s main character? If so, you can thank the mirror neurons in your brain. They’re recreating the emotions you’re seeing on the screen or reading in a book.

According to News Medical, mirror neurons fire when a person performs an action and also observes others taking the same action. Consider this movie scene:

  • A woman cries happy tears at her daughter’s wedding.
  • As you watch the movie, you also well up because you’ve experienced joy during a similar occasion, even if it wasn’t your daughter’s wedding.

The mirroring of behaviors and feelings is thought to play a major role in emotional intelligence, learning and empathy.

You could even say that we don’t just read or watch stories. We feel the emotions in them. At that moment, we’re in the story as if it’s happening to us. Based on your approach to storytelling in healthcare, you can make your point and at the same time make an emotional connection with your prospect. That emotional connection helps make what you have to say — and your brand — memorable.

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5 ways to make storytelling part of your healthcare website strategy

Cold, hard facts have their place. But they generally don’t create much of a feeling. And feelings help drive decisions. Telling stories on your website can create those mirrored feelings that lead to practical decisions and bring prospects to your healthcare brand. Here are ways you can incorporate storytelling into your website strategy.

1. Go beyond patient stories to “people” stories

Patient stories are gold. A good patient story puts a positive light on your organization’s top-quality care or shows how your innovative new treatment helped after a dire diagnosis. But there are other “people” stories to consider:

  • Founder stories. Detail the history of your organization’s beginnings by spotlighting an origin story and the remarkable people behind it. Dig deep to learn as much as possible to show the founder(s) as engaging, real-life “characters” in their story.
  • Staff stories. Share a different perspective by telling a patient’s story from a doctor or nurse’s viewpoint. Or describe researchers behind a new medicine or the designers of innovative new equipment. But instead of using only data and the “nuts and bolts” of the technology, focus on the “why” of the researchers and designers, their passion for their projects and how they help patients. Then you can introduce supporting data that’s softened by the human touch.

2. Tell visual stories

A study by Contently found that 75% of marketers see better ROI by using visuals with their content. Consider using more animated videos and infographics, which, according to Contently, can make a site come across as more trustworthy and innovative. Their research also found that content with a video element is eight times as engaging as written content alone.

3. Hire a storyteller

GE Healthcare created a special series that told very human stories from around the world through the compelling reporting of Mikey Kay, a correspondent and professional filmmaker. He reported from the field on the latest health news and stories around the world. Having someone on staff to tell your stories through blogs and vlogs lets you present proprietary content in a compelling way.

4. Create corporate responsibility stories that shine

You have stories about how you’re making a difference in your communities. Why bury them in the “News & Events” section of your website? Create well-made content that’s authentic and transparent and shows the difference you’re making right where you live. It can build an emotional connection with patients and prospects who relate to the stories you tell about their communities.

5. Avoid the blog slog when it comes to storytelling

According to a consumer study, 87% of us go online to research medical conditions and diagnoses. You want to grab your share of the millions of Americans who rely on the internet for medical information. A good health and wellness blog on your website can help you do it. But even while you’re positioning yourself as the healthcare expert you are, 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.

Tyler DeWitt might have said it best during his Ted Talk. “If you’re involved with science in any way, I urge you to join me. Pick up a camera, start to write a blog, whatever, but … leave out the jargon. Make me care. How should you start? Why don’t you say, ‘Listen, let me tell you a story.’”

Call on a content partner who’s 100% dedicated to healthcare. WriterGirl’s team of writers, editors and strategists can help you craft stories for your website, so you can better connect with patients and consumers. Drop us a line anytime to learn more.