Emotional Transportation: How Physicians Can Win Patient Compliance and Improve Outcomes with Purposeful Storytelling

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
doctor and patient

Two Minutes of Emotional Transportation

The few minutes that patients spend one-on-one with their physicians or surgeons are potentially powerful “teaching moments.” We can offer, from first hand experience, two examples of how doctors have used or squandered the same two minutes.

First, there was the highly regarded neurosurgeon who delivered an explanation of a patient’s back pain problem as if it was a “dumbed-down” recital from a medical textbook. It was clinically precise, absolutely correct and illustrated with a colorful but childish “patient education” pamphlet. ("And, by the way, see the front desk about the surgery schedule.")

Then there was the internist GP who offered a purposeful story of how his own daily exercise—via the hospital’s Executive Fitness program—had been of positive value to him, other doctors and patients. And, being part of the physical therapy regimen he was recommending, daily exercise would similarly benefit the patient if they used Executive Fitness program or they exercised regularly on their own.

You can see why only one of these encounters was effective in winning patient compliance, and ultimately a healthy outcome. The power of “storytelling” with a purpose is documented in both medical research and in books for business.

On the clinical side, a study of hypertensive patients in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded, “The storytelling intervention produced substantial and significant improvements in blood pressure for patients with baseline uncontrolled hypertension.” Other professional publications have offered similar findings in favor of storytelling.

But we also discovered a new book over on the business shelf that has a message for all healthcare communicators. Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story by Peter Guber wasn’t written for physicians or healthcare marketing professionals, but it belongs on their recommended reading list.

Businessman Peter Guber is Chairman & CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, Owner & Co-Executive Chairman of NBA's Golden State Warriors, Producer of Rain Man, Gorillas In The Mist and The Kids Are All Right. And, by the way, he’s also a full professor at UCLA. But he sees himself as being in the emotional transportation business.

In Tell to Win Guber provides practical examples in making the goal of the story—challenge, struggle and resolution—show what’s in it for the listener. “The magic happens,” he says in an interview, “when you take facts and figures, features and benefits, decks and PowerPoints—relatively soulless information—and embed them in the telling of a purposeful story.

“Your ‘tell’ renders an experience to your audience, making the information inside the story memorable, resonant and actionable. This is the heart and soul of the emotional transportation business which is using the power of your story to bring to life the call to action that you want from your audience.”

So how do you do it? Read “audience,” “listener” and “customer” as “patient” in these five pointers:

  • Capture your audience's attention first, fast, and foremost and keep it;
  • Motivate your listeners by being authentic and let that authenticity shine through;
  • Build your "Tell" around what's in it for them;
  • Change passive listeners into active participants;
  • Use state of the HEART technology online and offline to turn listeners into viral advocates and customers into raving fans.

The book elaborates on that last one, but the elements of storytelling, healthcare marketing and point-of-care conversations have a lot in common.

Disclosure: Peter Guber doesn’t need our help in selling this already number-one book, which pretty much explains why we were not paid for this reference. (Still, it’s a richly rewarding read.) And if you’d like to talk about putting these and other ideas to work, please connect with us here.

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