Category leadership and health literacy: using visual storytelling to inform and motivate your patients

In this article, Ken Fabianovicz discusses the five fundamentals for successful visual communications in today’s healthcare environment.

According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, “one out of five American adults reads at the 5th grade level or below, and the average American reads at the 8th to 9th grade level, yet most healthcare materials are written above the 10th grade level”. Soon, with millions of new patients poised to enter the healthcare system under the Affordable Care Act, the challenge of communicating complex health information is going to become even greater. Fortunately, the use of visual storytelling in today’s rich media environment can be a powerful means for reaching and motivating patients and addressing the daunting challenges surrounding health literacy. Below are the five fundamentals for successful visual communications in today’s healthcare space. These fundamentals can help drive category leadership and successfully motivate patients to take appropriate action.

I. What action is needed?

Before we decide how to communicate to a patient defining the action of this communication is critical. To be clear, the focus of this defining action should be what we want the patient to do, not what the communication does for the brand. For example, a communication delivers awareness to your brand, demonstrates product benefits, educates on dosing, or supports compliance. The patient’s action would be to go to a brand’s website, request information from the doctor, take the proper dosing, or refill his / her prescription.


“…the challenge of communicating complex health information is going to become even greater.”


II. Get to the core of the story

Once we have a clear understanding of this defining action, it is essential to get to the core of the story. What information is absolutely critical for the patient to understand? What medical concepts need to be put in context so the patient understands the relevance of your offering? What terms and language are already being used in the category? Can we adapt this language into your messaging, or do we need to build upon the existing terminology? Is the med-legal team comfortable using language that patients may find easier to understand? These questions will help define and clarify the core of the story. Once we have defined the core message, be sure to stay focused on communicating that core message. In many campaigns, when patients don’t have a solid grasp on the basics, they can become confused by the addition of advanced information.

III. Create simple imagery to support your story

To communicate the basics, using just any visual is not effective in generating action. The art of visual storytelling is to refine the design to the simplest imagery while still effectively communicating the story. The objective is to be able to tell the story that is immediately understandable. Pushing the design of the visual to the smallest denominator can be difficult, but if you can communicate the message with only visuals to induce action, the infographic will be effective.

IV. Deliver small doses

While the trend of many infographics is to scroll down the screen in a seemingly endless waterfall of information, this approach is generally not helpful to patients who are at the beginning stages of their patient journey. Lay out your imagery in small, digestible doses of visual information. This will allow patients with a lower reading level to build up their understanding and not become overwhelmed by an avalanche of terms, statistics, and warnings. Also, consider spreading your messaging over time. Successive visual touch points over several days or weeks can allow for patients to grow increasingly informed and confident about their condition and treatment regimen.


“The art of visual storytelling is to refine the design to the simplest imagery while still effectively communicating the story.”


V. Measure patient actions

The current explosion of infographics is happening in the context of a highly networked and engaged online audience. This online ecosystem creates a range of opportunities to invite users to click, respond, and share. Sometimes an action point can be as simple as a final motivational message with a website link to a root URL. In other instances, users can be invited to watch a video, download compliance or therapy tracking tool, share the infographic, or complete a survey. Carefully integrated and measurable action points enrich the story rather than stop it cold in its tracks. When designed with action in mind, infographics are transformed from giant, colorful billboards into engines of targeted engagement and measurable patient interaction. Try to pick one or two meaningful metrics to track. When it comes to health literacy, few, if any, brands actually measure their content with target patients. Brands that use visual storytelling to address issues surrounding health literacy and to track what is effective, will find themselves in a league of their own.

Without question, the Affordable Care Act will introduce more patients into the healthcare system. As a result, the challenges of health literacy will be brought to the forefront. Category leaders need to take a new and simplified approach in addressing health literacy. Visual storytelling can improve patient relationships, measured by the level of respect we demonstrate in recognizing that each patient will digest the information in a way that suits his / her particular interests, curiosity, or knowledgebase. Visual storytelling does not force users to digest a predetermined set of messages in a specific order, but instead, respects users’ intelligence by offering multiple points of exploration, discovery, and action.


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About the author:

Ken Fabianovicz currently provides strategic digital marketing direction for Cadient Group. He focuses on precision-driven programs, strategies, and tactical thinking that serve clients in their efforts to build great pharmaceutical brands. Ken has worked in a wide range of therapeutic areas targeting consumers, healthcare professionals, and payers.

Prior to joining Cadient Group, Ken was Group Account Supervisor at Dorland Global Health Communications for over 5 years. In addition, Ken spent several years as an Account Executive with both Integrated Communications Corporation and Dudnyk managing a number of US and Global accounts.

Over the last 15 years, Ken has been involved with developing growth strategies and leading integrated marketing campaigns in multiple market segments, including DTP/DTC, professional, managed markets, Federal & State Government (Medicare / Medicaid), long-term care, and retail pharmacy.

Ken graduated from Rowan University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising / Public Relations.

In what ways can you effectively communicate complex healthcare information to patients?