Patient engagement: just ask for their story

At the end of the day everyone wants to matter to somebody. Patients want to be recognised for who they are and to count in the scheme of things. To provide them with truly compassionate and personalised healthcare, however, you need to know their stories—not just the medical conditions they have, but their background, thoughts, feelings and values. Writing as a patient rather than a marketer, in this article Ash Rishi looks at ways to get patients’ stories which ultimately can improve healthcare services.

Ways to get the story

So, how do you get your patients to tell you their stories? One way is to ask. Physician Dr Emily Gibson started an initiative in her practice to create an “About Me” folder for each of her patients. When the patient logs in to the online portal for the first time, they have the opportunity to respond to questions covering family, background, career, sexual orientation, spirituality and opinion, in addition to their health issues. This helps her get to know her patients and provides her with a profile that goes above and beyond the symptoms they suffer from.

Benefits of storytelling

Doctors are increasingly finding that the secret to treating their patients lies not in the illness or symptoms, but in their fears, habits, beliefs and even financial issues. Knowing those details and encouraging patient openness through storytelling can make a significant difference to the way conditions are treated, and enable you to offer the added benefit of empathy.

“Doctors are increasingly finding that the secret to treating their patients lies not in the illness or symptoms, but in their fears, habits, beliefs and even financial issues.”

A study in Academic Medicine evaluated the empathy levels of a group of family doctors against a standardised scale and then studied almost 900 patients with diabetes for a period of three years. Results showed that those patients who rated their physicians higher on empathy had greater success in managing their condition than the rest. A round-up of the benefits of knowing your patients’ stories includes:

1. Better patient response

Having a body of knowledge about each of your patients makes it possible for you to customize your approach and response to them across a range of media. If you blog regularly, you can use real data to inform your choice of topics and make sure you’re providing the information they need to know. For example, if you have a fairly wide base of patients who are diabetic and pre-diabetic, you can cater to their needs on a regular basis with posts and information about the condition.

2. Increased patient engagement

When a patient responds to your content, you can review his or her personal story before commenting to make sure that your reply is tailored to the specific circumstances. This engages the patient and helps him to get more involved in his own healthcare, because he will understand that he’s more than just a number to you. Stats have shown that patient engagement helps lower the incidence of consultations and hospital admissions and greatly increases the level of patient satisfaction.

3. Improved patient service

Treating the whole person, not just the disease! That’s the dream many physicians have had since the beginning of time. It’s practical for small town doctors, but the moment your patient base gets a bit bigger it’s really difficult to keep track of all your patients’ personal lives. Well, it doesn’t have to be. By asking your patients to tell their story (and making a note that’s easily accessible), you can now do precisely that. And the digital age enables you to have the information at your fingertips at all times. This can hugely improve the service you give your patients on a day-to-day basis.

“Stats have shown that patient engagement helps lower the incidence of consultations and hospital admissions…”


4. Higher profitability

Sure, you’re not in healthcare services to make money but you have to live, pay your staff and cover your bills, so profitability has to be a focus. When you’re dealing with patients you’re dealing with people, and people always have stories to tell. Make your patients a part of your “family” by knowing and understanding their stories and using that information to improve the care you give them.

In the words of Pamela Wible, MD: “I can’t always cure, but I can always care!” Find out their stories by just asking them. You may be surprised at what happens!



About the author:

Ash Rishi is the Founder and CEO of COUCH. Based in London, COUCH is an integrated digital marketing and creative communications agency focusing on the pharmaceutical, healthcare and lifestyle industry. Ash has over 9 years experience in pharma marketing and has delivered activities across UK, Europe, US, Canada and Latin America. His area of expertise include: branding, communications, stakeholder development and digital marketing. Ash is also the founder of a new pharmaceutical marketing community on Google +. You can reach Ash at or follow him on Twitter @We_Are_Couch and @Ash_Rishi.

Closing thought: Does better understanding your patient lead to improved treatment outcomes?