Outcome Photos: Why Some Pictures Can Ruin your Message

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

Young man framing the shot with his handsSkilled practitioners want everyone to appreciate the work they do, and before-and-after photos can work wonders. But, remember that patients are interested in personal benefits, not clinical process. For external marketing materials, use images that illustrate positive outcomes and benefits and save the clinical pictures for colleagues.

We are often asked about using “before-and-after” photos in advertising materials. Here’s the short answer: Outcome photos and “before-and-after” photos, often are terrific. “Work in progress photos” (e.g., surgeries), almost never.

Outcome photos (afters) work very well, especially when you say “actual patient.”

Before-and after photos can also be very convincing, if there is an obvious benefit in the “afters.”” (We can’t tell you how many unimpressive photos we have seen for procedures like microdermabrasion and IPL treatments.) It is ok to style the patient in the after photos, as long as the styling doesn’t appear to be the only difference.

One more thing – oftentimes the before can be too unattractive, so use care.

“During” photos are not only unappealing to prospective patients, they are downright scary. Maybe we should be asked more often because we frequently see brochures, websites and other external audience materials that include painfully scary photos. (It is sometimes reasonable to use them carefully as part of informed consent while you are there in the room.)

Almost every type of healthcare specialty and sub-specialty practitioner is tempted to display their skills, experience and handiwork as part of their marketing message. Surprisingly, this isn’t limited to cosmetic and appearance-directed services in orthodontics, reconstructive dentistry, plastic surgery and the like. The question of “before, during and after” images also comes to us from unlikely medical corners such as gastroenterology and general surgery.

If you are tempted to use patient or medical condition photos on your website, brochures, or in your healthcare organization, hospital, group or practice-the wrong images will do more harm than good. If you’re in doubt, call us for a second opinion.

Here are some general guidelines in selecting appropriate photos.

  • Patients want results, not process. Universally, individuals seek healthcare in search of happiness. Their first and foremost desire is some measure of personal improvement. Accordingly, photos, images, illustrations and even videos about what you deliver should illustrate the benefits. These individuals don’t need or want clinical instruction.
  • Photos of people are better. Too many dentists, for example, use clinical photos of teeth. Generally, it is better to show the full face, in context.
  • Advertising is not “informed consent.” Distinguish between images for use in external messages (seen outside the office), and their selective use in the privacy of consultative patient information and informed consent discussions. Before and after images can provide comparisons to help shape realistic expectations.
  • Be careful about implied promises. There is a compelling message in previous outcomes, but Illustrations or images of previous results cannot be presented as a promise about future.
  • Clear all legal hurdles. Having a photo is not the same as having the legal rights and permissions to use it in any way outside of the private and clinical needs. Get advice on clearances, permissions and releases on all photos, especially if they are patient-related images.

Properly used, outcome photos can be effective support for a positive and persuasive marketing message about weight loss, dentistry, dermatology, cosmetic and plastic surgery, medical spas and medispas.

There are many visual elements in brochures, websites, posters, signs and other tools of healthcare advertising, and this just scratches the surface. First-class marketing materials will put your best face forward.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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