How to Use Patient Personas for Optimal Connection
If you want to truly connect with your patient community – and your prospective patient community, for that matter – you must know who you are trying to connect with. You must understand them. This article is about how to develop patient personas in order to better connect with those communities for healthcare marketing. But first let me explain my loathing for that term, “healthcare marketing.” Let me back up two steps and explain my take on content marketing in healthcare: it’s not really marketing. We’re not marketing: we’re not selling anything. In fact, we’re not even selling healthcare!
Not Marketing. Not Selling … Connecting
We’re content connecting: we’re providing what our community is looking for.
What are Patients Looking For?
What are they looking for? They’re looking for answers to their health questions. They’re looking for trustworthy experts to reassure them when they’re freaking-out about their symptoms, because they discovered some inaccurate online sales-copy that insists they are doomed. They’re looking for accurate information. They’re looking for a conversation that develops into a relationship.
Simply stated: they’re looking for human connection.
After all, isn’t that what we need most when we’re sick? Or not even sick, maybe just experiencing a symptom that we don’t understand. Most importantly, we want information that we can understand and trust; we want comfort; reassurance; real health care. Not some automaton filling in the boxes on their electronic medical record. We want a human who will care for us. That’s what we want as patients.
What are You Looking For?
What we want as a hospital or medical practice is different: we want to be the trusted resource for our patients; for our prospective patients. We want to be where they go to receive their health care. But in order for you to connect with your prospective patients, in order for you to be found when they are searching online for answers, you must first understand them. And you must provide content that they seek. Simple as that.
Not the Average …
Providing content for the average person searching online misses the individual by pursuing the average, by providing content for the many. There is great power in speaking to one person … your persona.
Do not address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a personal letter …” David Oglivy
Example of a Patient Persona
So now, instead of creating content for “women, ages 25-39, married, income over $45,000, with 1-3 children,” you will create content for a single persona:
Rachel, 32 years old. Bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts. Works part time from home while raising two children, ages 3 years and 18 months. Manages family’s health issues, including a spouse who is overweight, with type II diabetes, and a child with recurrent otitis media. Also caring for aging parents who are relatively healthy, but require increasing oversight and assistance meeting their health needs.”
Value of Your Patient Personas
Doesn’t Rachel sound real? Isn’t it easier to think of content that will interest her, that will speak to her needs? Content that will actually help her and that she will be grateful for? Content that will connect with her?
The common concern is that you will miss the rest of your audience by speaking to your One Persona, “How can I afford to ignore the rest of my market?” The answer is that you won’t ignore the rest of your community. When people find your content and visit your website they should feel welcome. You should provide content that they will appreciate. But if you focus on an average of your community – a demographic – nobody will feel that you are speaking to them, because nobody is “average;” nobody is a demographic. And your content will be just more of the same noise already online. Your content will be just more online vanilla, nothing that connects. Another criticism of Personas is rudely voiced by Steve Portigal: “Personas are user-centered bullsh!t”
Personas are user-centered bullshit!” Steve Portigal
And a few years back – before I knew better from personal experience and years of working with hospitals and medical practices to connect with their communities using Personas – I might have accepted Mr. Portigal’s opinion.
Now I know better … patient personas boost connection.
So What Is It? What is a Persona?
Your patient persona, your One Person, is a fictional representation of your ideal patient: your “archetypal patient.” Personas are based on real data from patient interviews, questionnaires, and analytics, about patient demographics and online behavior; along with educated speculation about their personal histories, motivations, and concerns.
How is a Patient Persona Different from a Demographic?
A persona is a fictitious, single person. Yes, it is based on demographic data, and on psychographic segmentation, and so much more. Those data represent a collection of real people; the statistical characteristics of a population. But a persona is not a statistic; it is not a demographic. A persona is informed by those data, but a persona goes way beyond mere statistics. And, in my experience … it works!
How to Develop Your Patient Persona(s)?
Start with your One Person. The One Person that your most-important-service-line is designed for. For the remainder of this article, we’ll assume that there is a single service line or specialty that you are most interested in creating content for; a service line that you are developing a content marketing program around. After that, simply rinse, repeat. Then create content that connects for your other service lines.
For an individual practice, instead of “service line,” think “area of specialization.”
Don’t know your One Person? Time to get to know one. Time to CREATE one.
Here are some tips for creating your first persona:
- Interview current patients that use your favorite service line. Interview in person or by phone. When interviewing patients, focus on their health journey:
- focus their problem; and how you have a solution.
- when did symptoms begin (acute or chronic)?
- ow did they find your health system – referred or discovered through online search or by word of mouth?
- how did they first contact your organization and what was that experience like?
- how long did it take to arrange a visit?
- how easy was it to find their way once on-site (issues like ease of parking, signage, helpful reception desk, etc)?
- what was the on-site, face-to-face visit like?
- was there follow-up?
- what were the off-site, follow up touch points like? etc.
- Focus on the touch points.
Review your website content analytics to uncover trends about how people find and consume your content; pay attention to where they came from (which websites or landing pages), and what is currently the most popular content on your site;
When creating forms for your website, include form fields that capture important personal details. For example, whether male or female; ages of children; whether they manage care for elderly parents; education level; household income; etc.
Make it clear that they can leave some blanks, but that any information they can provide will help you improve their patient experience. And that all information they provide is strictly secure and only used internally to help improve their care.
So … how do I do this? How do I create my patient persona?
Glad you asked … here is the outline (download your Patient Persona Blueprint below)
Patient Persona Outline
The easiest way to develop each persona for your hospital or practice is to use a systematic approach. The following is the outline from my Patient Persona Blueprint:
- Basic details about person’s role in healthcare – their own and their family’s
- Key information about their household and family
- Key information about health – their own and their family’s
- Household income
- Urbanicity – urban, suburban, rural?
- What online resources do they use to answer health questions?
- What online platforms do they frequent for personal connection or entertainment?
- Culture – what “generation”
- Food & Beverages
- Play time spent?
- Persona’s primary health goal
- Persona’s secondary health goal
Challenges & Frustrations:
- Primary health challenge
- Secondary health challenge
How We Help:
- How you solve your persona’s challenges
- How you help your persona achieve goals
- Include a few real quotes, taken during interviews, that represent your persona well. This makes them more relatable for your content and marketing team.
Identify the most common objections your persona may raise during their health journey to your hospital or practice:
- Insurance coverage?
- Available specialists?
- Delay to appointment?
- Difficulty finding parking downtown?
Anticipate the objections and use these in reassuring content throughout your campaign.
- What information is your persona seeking?
- How should you present your content and solution to your persona?
If you’re interested in taking your healthcare content program to the next level, download your FREE 24-page Patient Persona Blueprint here (yes, it will require your email address so I know where to send it!).
Make Them Real …
Be certain to personalize your patient persona:
- give them a name (nothing cutesy; use a serious name);
- give them an image (download one from the internet if you have to);
- give them quotes from your interviews of current patients.
That engages your content creation team, and helps them speak directly to your One Person.
You’ve done it!
You Created Your First Persona
Now use that Persona to guide your creation of content – just for that persona.
Just for that. One. Person.
Resist the temptation to produce content for your perceived average prospective patient: don’t create content for a demographic. Instead, produce content for your One Person. Speak directly to them, to their needs and fears; solve their problem; overcome their objections. Put yourself in their shoes. And truly connect with them. Provide answers to their health questions, and they will come to you … precisely because you speak to them.
And here’s the secret to why personas work to connect and build your practice: they’re not really just one person – there are many of your One Person out there looking for similar content! Create that content for the one, and the many will find you; they will come to trust you as an authority in the area they are seeking information on; and they will come to you for their care. That’s a win/win.
Yeah … I was pretty skeptical until I actually created a persona and began speaking directly to them, writing content for that one persona instead of for my “average reader.”
Monthly visitors to my blog nearly doubled within a short time, and tripled within 12 months!! … Secret Sauce! Since then, I’ve helped health systems and medical practices do the same, and it never fails. Secret sauce :)
So, based on my experience, Mr. Portigal’s opinion is just that: opinion. I respect that … everyone is entitled to their opinion.
So here is my opinion: There is huge power in personas.
Develop your personas and I think you’ll agree.
Patient Persona Blueprint
Want to know how I researched who my One Person was? Drop me a line and let me know. I’m serious, send me your questions to RF[@]russellfaust.com, and I’ll be glad to tell you exactly how I did it (the answer’s not in the blueprint).
And, click on this link to download your Secret Sauce … your Free 24-page Patient Persona Blueprint … that you can start using immediately to develop your patient persona (yes, you will need to opt-in with your email address).
Secret Sauce …
Have you tried using Personas to improve connection with your community?
Patient personas working for you?
Let me know and I’ll include your practice as a case-study in my pending book on healthcare content marketing!!
(Hey, free exposure for your practice … I love a win-win :))
Please let me know YOUR thoughts about patient personas below.
Be sure to check out this brief but stellar guide from Patricia Redsicker at WorldView Editing: 3 Steps to Building Patient Personas for Content Marketing.
Mapping the Patient Journey, from HiMSS.
9 Steps to Target Patient Niches, from referralMD.