Medical blog writers are not regular bloggers and they are definitely not journalists. The rules simply are not the same for healthcare practices relaying any kind of medical information.
This is never more true than when writing a patient story for your practice website
To begin with–unlike the usual “subjects” or “sources” in journalism, setting up a patient interview takes a delicate touch and a signed consent form or two (think HIPAA privacy laws).
Then, once you have secured the interview, you CAN’T just rush in blindly. At worst, you’ll offend the patient and they will revoke their consent. At best, the interview will be dull and the patient quotes won’t inspire anyone to call you.
There is a way to get the best story and the sparkling-est quotes out of your patient interview. In fact, there are just four things you need to do:
- Show Respect &
P.S. If your next patient interview is also your FIRST patient interview, you really need to read this first.
Do your homework on the patient if you don’t know them well (stay within patient consent and HIPAA guidelines here). With preparation, your questions can be more pointed and effective. And you won’t waste time on information you should already know.
Put together a list of questions or points of interests to ask about.
Questions should be open-ended, not the “yes” or “no” type. This gives the patient room to elaborate and surprise you with the direction they take answering the question. Good questions often start with words like “why” or “how” or “tell me more about.” One of my favorites is, “What surprised you the most about Dr.–?”
Keep your questions simple. Ask just one at a time. Stay away from the convoluted multi-question. For example, “How was your experience at the hospital? Were your kids with you? Who brought you to the hospital?” Stick with something like, “How did you feel when you first got to the hospital?”
Be prepared to veer from your questions. Think of your prepared notes as a skeleton to build the interview around. The questions are a good place to start and to come back to if you have a brain freeze, but the interview should be conversational and free flowing.
As the interview progresses jot down (or just ask) new questions that come up. You might also find that some of your prepared questions are no longer relevant.
Nothing will help you relax more than being prepared. But you can also do a few other things commonly advised: Take some deep breaths. Picture the patient in their underwear. Remember that everyone goes to the bathroom (just like you do).
Also, remember that this might be the very first time this patient has ever been interviewed and they may be more nervous than you.
Take the focus off yourself and go into the interview with the aim of putting the patient at ease. Using humor and being a little self-deprecating can help.
Also, don’t worry that you might miss something important during the interview. You can always do a follow up by email or phone.
3. Show Respect
Don’t be overly familiar with the patient at the start. Go with “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” “Mr.,” or “Dr.” until you are invited to be less formal.
Make sure your subject knows how much you value that they are sharing their story. Thank them up front.
Be friendly. Be yourself (unless you are cynical and sarcastic and have few friends–then fake it).
DON’T be a journalist. This is not the kind of interview where you dig in and ask the really hard questions. You are not looking for a scoop or for the patient to slip up and admit something self-incriminating.
Practice active listening. Don’t be stone cold silent while they are talking. Popping in with occasional questions and affirmations like “I see,” “that is amazing,” or “no kidding?” will ensure them that you are listening and interested in what they have to say. By the same token, don’t overrun the conversation with your own “fascinating” anecdotes.
At the end ask if there is anything you may have missed or that they want to share in the story
I am a big advocate of recording calls (read more about that here). The biggest reason for me is that it allows you to really listen instead of focusing on getting everything down. The interview can be more conversational.
The other thing I find is that sometimes the best quotes are found after the interview, when you are reviewing the transcription. This is especially true if you were a little nervous during the interview.
You may also find some real gems that you missed because you were rifling through your notes or got distracted for a second (it happens).
Read more: Long Live the Phone Interview
Go to the Charlie Rose website and bookmark a couple of his interviews to watch when you can later.
Charlie Rose is the master of bringing out the best in people. You will notice he is always prepared, relaxed, and respectful (and his interviews are always recorded, for that matter). His interviews are wonderfully conversational but also appropriately lopsided in his guest’s favor.
Use the tips I have outlined above and you’ll be well prepared for your next patient interview. Your post will engage more readers, the quotes will inspire, and the patient story will do what it is meant to–bring in more patients.