Patient Stories Are Restoring Trust in Healthcare

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Preview in advance of June 16, 2023, PM360 publication

Americans are losing trust in healthcare. Only 29% trust medical scientists, according to Pew, while 62% don’t trust their health plans. Instead, patients increasingly rely on their peer communities online to make health decisions, especially from other patients. Emotional and personal recommendations have become vital currency in healthcare marketing today.

In a recent study of ads across Meta, consumers prefer lo-fi peer-to-peer content over studio-produced content, because they trust the messenger. People are 3-5x more likely to share content from a microinfluencer than the brand, and 2-3x more likely to engage with it. Consequently, patient stories now pepper both brand Websites and social media pages. 

Patient stories are the highest performing and most persuasive content for pharma brands, hospitals, insurers, and OTC medicines. Here is why: 

  1. The Messenger Matters: The patient story should come from the target patient group – shared ages, ethnicities, genders, and economics matter. Johnson & Johnson  succeeded in its message on pain management because the brand sourced content from pre- and post-surgical patient stories within a specific age group.
  1. A Real Story: The most significant factor in the performance of a post, video, or ad from a patient is whether the patient expressed something personal rather than something general about the treatment or condition. For example, i-Health recognizes this truth through stories from sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome with people talking about overcoming life challenges through the Culturelle probiotic. 
  1. Trust the Patient: Brands are tempted to create their own TikTok videos and populate Web forums with their messages, but they should resist this urge. Patients understand their communities better, because they share a real-life condition, and they are inside the community. Hologic raises awareness of cervical health through viral TikTok dances such as “Mani, Pedi, Pap, Pose”, conceived and created by women with cervical health challenges as well as an understanding of TikTok culture.
  1. Guide the Patient: 84% of patients crafting stories have not worked for a brand prior, which is partially why it resonates. A creative brief is vitally important. To name a few tips for patient creative briefs: 250 words max, clear do’s and don’ts, approved language, guidance to tell their story, and placement of the CTA depending on the objective. 
  1. Scale Matters: Patient groups are diverse and their experiences differ. While many brands may have sourced a handful of stories, they must source and distribute more stories in more places across the Internet through paid, owned and earned channels. For example, The Ad Council sources more than a thousand vaccine stories from a rainbow of Americans through its Creators for Good program.

The front-line of winning diabetes and weight loss patients for brands such as Mounjaro and Wegovy is playing out on TikTok and Instagram right now. There is a safe way for brands to participate through authentic patient stories. Health brands should embrace the power of relatable storytelling. 

Curtis Hougland is the founder and CEO of People First.