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Healthcare content4 min read Writing great healthcare stories: What is the best way to interview patients?

Patient stories make great healthcare content. Here are some of our best tips on how to conduct a great patient interview.

March 17, 2021The Coffey Team

People love reading true stories—especially ones with a happy ending, which is why patient stories can make some of the best healthcare content. Including them in your hospital's magazine, e-newsletter or on your website can put a human face on your brand and connect emotionally with readers.

You should use patient stories to highlight your service lines, innovative treatments, expertise and compassionate staff.

But telling great stories starts with a great interview.

9 patient interview best practices

Don’t worry if you’re not a born interviewer. For most of us, interviewing skills develop with practice and over time.

These tips can help:

  1. Listen up. Whether you're interviewing a patient face-to-face from a safe social distance, or by phone or Zoom call, remember that your main job is listening. To cultivate the habits of an empathic listener:
    • In person, use positive body language. Make eye contact.
    • Listen much more than you talk.
    • Ask one question at a time. Try to avoid asking two-part questions, such as “Why did your doctor recommend our cardiac rehab program, and what was it like?”
    • Try not to interrupt (unless you don't understand something or you need to gently steer the interview back on track).
    • Be sensitive to the person's emotions and comfort level. If they struggle with a difficult emotion, give them space. You can say something like, “Take your time” or “Would you like to take a break or move on to another question?”
    • Don't rush. Allow the person to gather their thoughts as needed.
  1. Define your story's purpose. Do you want to help readers understand a new surgical technique? Or inspire them to take a particular action, such as having a screening test?

    Having a clear goal in mind can help you come up with the right questions to draw out the information you need.

    Communicating that goal to the patient you're interviewing will also help them stay on track and give you the best possible information.

    It’s also a good idea to mention the length of your article. Set expectations by explaining that, even though you may talk at length, you will not have room to include everything.
  1. Prepare for the interview. Gather as much background information as possible about the person you'll be interviewing. Also take time to learn about the underlying topic. For example, if the backdrop of the interview is a type of surgery, learn as much about the surgery as you can.

  2. Ask the patient memory-jogging questions. The right questions can take people back to a key time and place in their story and help them remember specific information. Often, you can accomplish this with the way you tee up your questions:
    • Take me back to when you were diagnosed. What do you remember about that day?
    • What did you think when you found out minimally invasive surgery was an option?
    • How did you feel the day you learned your cancer was in remission?
    • Why did you have confidence in your surgeon?
    • Who was most helpful during your treatment and recovery?
  1. Bring your story to life by gathering compelling interview details. As you listen, look for interesting tidbits that can help bring your story to life and help readers connect. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you need more details. They could be little things that reveal something about the person, such as:
    • A pet's name, age and breed.
    • What a spouse or child said when your interview subject came home from the hospital.
    • How their co-workers pitched in during their health challenge.
    • Any activities or hobbies your interviewee is able to enjoy thanks to their successful treatment.
    • What kind of work they do now or did before they retired.

Pro tip: Also look for details that you can use to help set the scene: What were you doing when the chest pain started? What was the weather like that morning? What were you watching on TV? What did you think was happening at first?

The key is to listen carefully and really hone in on the details. You can use those details to tell an irresistible story rich in drama and emotion.

  1. Ask for positive feedback. Don't be shy about asking for specific details about your hospital's services. This is a good opportunity to find out about their positive patient experiences.

Some questions to ask:

    • What was the best thing about the healthcare you received?
    • How did our doctors and nurses make you feel?
    • How did the care you received change your life for the better?
    • Why would you recommend our hospital to a friend?
  1. Listen for a lede. Many patient healthcare stories begin with an anecdotal lede—a little story that grabs the reader’s attention from the start. For example, if you are interviewing a heart attack survivor, you’ll probably want to gather several details about the moments leading up to the heart attack.

  2. Back it up. Even if you record your interview, take notes. Sooner or later, a recording device will fail. Don’t take that chance.

  3. Get written permission. Make sure that all your healthcare marketing adheres to the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Have procedures and policies in place to make sure you're doing what you need to do to protect your patients and your organization.

Telling healthcare stories—it's what we do

To learn how Coffey's content creation team can help your brand shine through engaging, custom-written stories, give us a call at 888-805-9101 or email us.