A guest blog post by Jeni Williams
A girl who played as a catcher for her high school softball team, even though she was born without a left hand.
Two siblings who lost control of their catamaran in Lake Michigan and became stranded, miles from shore, with no help in sight.
A teenager whose car was rear-ended at a railroad crossing—and whose car was dragged by a train for four miles as she sat inside, desperately calling 911.
These are just a few of the people whose stories have captivated me since I became a professional writer more than two decades ago. Truth be told, stories—especially those of real people overcoming the odds, helping others in need, or pursuing their passions—have always been my passion.
Healthcare is rich with narratives like these, and for 23 years, I’ve written about them in a variety of settings, from a county-owned health system to two healthcare associations. A health system’s ability to tell the stories of its impact on its communities and its patients is a critical part of demonstrating its value. It’s also a way to reaffirm the importance of the work that everyone in the organization—from physicians to clinicians to the cashier in the cafeteria who talks with staff, patients and their families—performs each day.
4 Tips For Healthcare Organizations To Find Great Stories That Resonate With Those They Serve
1. Have lunch with staff from other departments or service lines. Just as healthcare’s senior leaders are encouraged to walk the halls of their hospital and talk with staff, patients and families, enjoying a meal with coworkers from other specialties can lead to great conversations that spark ideas for content. These conversations don’t have to be about work to prompt the type of thinking that can lead to an article. For instance, what are these employees’ passions? How do they like to spend their time outside work? One cardiac cath lab director I know works as a wedding photographer on weekends. This type of nugget could be the basis for an engaging employee profile. If your organization is seeking ways to improve employee satisfaction, informal discussions such as these also are a way to generate tips for improvement. A sample conversation starter: “If you could change one thing to make this organization better for staff or for patients, what would it be?”
2. Be involved in your community. I used to teach Sunday School for elementary-age students, and the daughter of my co-teachers was diagnosed with Perthes disease, a rare condition in which lack of blood flow to the hip causes the head of the femur bone to die. She ultimately underwent four surgeries to restore blood flow and correct bone deformities in the hip. This family was grateful to receive care locally, rather than traveling an hour to a children’s hospital in Chicago, and they shared so many anecdotes of physicians, pediatric nurses, and staff who went above and beyond in caring for this little girl. This is the type of story that a writer might not encounter in an office setting, but it’s a rich example of the ways in which local hospitals make a tremendous difference for the communities they serve. It also underscores the value of always keeping an eye out for human interest articles. This girl’s story ultimately was featured in the hospital’s health and wellness magazine, sent to 40,000 people in two counties. Today, she’s a nurse.
3. Follow the local sports news. Some of the best sports stories, especially profiles of local athletes, have a healthcare component. By reading the sports section of the local newspaper, I’ve found stories such as a cross country runner who was diagnosed with cancer after a physical. And, through an interview with a basketball player who later turned pro, I discovered his sports career was nearly cut short by tachycardia, a condition that causes an abnormally fast heart rate Sometimes, the healthcare angle in a sports story published by a local news outlet might only be a sentence or two. This provides an opportunity for a healthcare writer to dig deeper by reaching out to the athlete or family and asking about their healthcare journey. Often, these conversations lead to fresh angles that a healthcare organization’s communications department would be well-suited to develop.
4. Practice social listening. By following people on LinkedIn and Twitter who are passionate about the patient experience and patient advocacy, writers can gain a greater understanding of the challenges patients face. They can then reflect on the ways their organization could help ease these challenges for patients by sharing content across a number of vehicles: online, print, message-on-hold systems, radio, and television. For example, one patient advocate recently reached out to her Twitter followers to ask: Who should patients contact to apply for charity care—and can patients apply for assistance prior to treatment? Conversations such as these might prompt writers to consider the financial challenges patients face in an era of increased out-of-pocket costs. They might also lead to ideas for content that can help patients navigate the financial aspects of care more effectively—and with less stress.
By continually seeking new ways to uncover great stories, healthcare organizations will be better positioned to share intriguing content that engages and educates their audiences and strengthens their reputation.
Jeni Williams has 23 years of experience as a healthcare writer and editor, including as a public relations specialist for Porter Memorial Health System (now Porter Health Care System) in Valparaiso, Ind.; managing editor, content development for the Healthcare Financial Management Association; editor-in-chief for the American College of Healthcare Executives; and, currently, as an independent contractor. She may be reached at email@example.com.