Story Spinning: An Age-Old Practice Revisited for 21st Century Healthcare

When someone tells a story, they’re drawing on ancient practices that date back as far as man’s beginning. From the very first tales spun on cave walls, there have been heroes and journeys, quests for wealth and quests for understanding.  The most memorable and moving tales have been shown to follow predetermined patterns that reveal familiar archetypes following mythic journeys.  And the patterns and archetypes and journeys that build the most successful stories appear to evolve organically, almost unconsciously.  Why? Because it’s embedded in our DNA.

Humans have told stories for so long that the patterns and journeys are immediately recognizable to our subconscious.  That recognition, that innate sense of understanding, can be a doorway that opens onto a vault filled with emotion, empathy, joy, and satisfaction.

Storytelling is not something that always comes to mind when you think of healthcare marketing, right? But stories can be found everywhere –– from the newspaper article that inspired a CEO’s desire to help shape the healthcare industry with a new innovation to the local pharmacy that went above and beyond to help an elderly customer obtain his medication to the way a health system delivers a diagnosis –– everything has a story, especially healthcare.  When it comes to the healthcare field, these stories are proving to be incredibly moving and powerful tools.  For example, watch this simple, emotional, and effective message produced by the Cleveland Clinic as part of its Empathy Series:

Video not displaying? Click here to watch Cleveland Clinic’s message.


How Can Stories Work in Healthcare?

Below is an example of a story in healthcare.  I will follow the story with a breakdown on how it can be spun and used in a marketing environment from several different healthcare perspectives:

Story Spinning- An Age-Old Practice Revisited for 21st Century Healthcare blog-02Jenny is a 35-year-old Assistant Principal at a local high school. She is fit, exercises regularly, eats a good diet, and has never smoked.  In August of 2017, Jenny got a cold with a persistent cough that would not subsist. X-rays showed fluid buildup around her lungs and she was diagnosed with pneumonia and treated. The cough continued. Her doctor ordered another set of x-rays and asked a colleague to review them. The colleague had come to the same conclusion – Jenny was suffering from pneumonia. But Jenny’s doctor is nagged by the persistence of her cough and its failure to respond to usual and customary treatment –– something doesn’t feel right. Because Jenny doesn’t fit the profile of someone at risk for lung cancer, her doctor didn’t think this would be the culprit, but he ordered a biopsy of the fluid around her lung anyway, just to be certain. The fluid was aspirated and tested. There was no sign of cancer cells. And still, the cough persisted. After ordering a third set of x-rays something faint and slightly opaque appeared just beneath the fluid, a shadowed bulkiness to her lungs that should not have been there. Doctors went in with a camera and discovered numerous tumor growths all along her lung walls. She was diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma. 

This story is a simple, mythic journey.  Jenny is the Hero and her quest is one of Discovery, Answers, and Health. Her quest also raises questions for the reader:

  1. Jenny had never smoked, so how did she get this disease? Tests showed Jenny has a genetic mutation known as an ALK gene rearrangement. 
  2. How is that treated? With targeted drug therapies.
  3. How would Jenny obtain these therapies? Through a pharmacy that specializes in specialty drugs — pharmaceutical therapies that are either high cost, high complexity, and/or high touch.


Jenny’s story is tough to read but happens more often than people might think, which means there are millions of people who could empathize with her challenges in one way or another.  For Jenny, there are both negative and positive points to this story. 

Negative: She’s still looking at a long road dealing with a devastating diagnosis. Odds are her cancer will never go away.

Positive: Because Jenny was diagnosed with a genetic mutation, she might be able to manage her cancer diagnosis using new drug therapies that target the mutation –– therapies that require taking one pill per day, with no chemotherapy.

So how do you spin it?

Spinning the Story to Your Audience

A story can be spun to fit any narrative:

Are you the doctor who diagnosed her? Then you can spin this story to focus on the importance of genetic testing and listening to your body.

Are you the developer of the drug? Then you can spin this story to focus on the importance of drug therapy research.

Are you the pharmacist who fills her prescription? Then you can focus on the importance of understanding drug interactions and managing side effects.

Are you the pharmacy she visits? Then you can focus on your commitment to providing positive customer experiences by encouraging your staff to pay attention to the needs of their customers.

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Stories Make Us Human

Jenny's story brings humanity to the clinical world of healthcare.  She is a patient and a consumer of health services but she's also, and most importantly, human. Jenny’s family will be looking for support and direction. And that's where the spinning comes into play. If you write a story that speaks to Jenny, her family, and even her community, you will have successfully created a healthcare story that can grow your business.

Your next step would be to create campaigns and assets around the story that include:

  • Create videos that tell stories which will dive deep into human connections (See Cleveland Clinic’s Empathy Series for incredible examples of how this can be done)
  • Produce white papers on emerging drug therapies
  • Create blogs that highlight new targeted drug therapies, support groups, or disease knowledge
  • Employ email reminders for appointments, drug refills, or upcoming support group meetings
  • Design Handouts on how to alleviate debilitating side effects
  • Generate flyers and materials that position your office, hospital, or pharmacy as knowledge centers
  • Plan sales that compliment Health Awareness Calendars

Closing Thoughts

Healthcare in the United States can sometimes seem like a staid, sterilized affair with little warmth –– it doesn’t have to be this way. Spinning stories into your healthcare communications can evoke emotion and inspire action –– whether you’re pitching investors for Series B funding, presenting how your healthcare innovation solves a real problem, negotiating a strategic alliance to fund a pilot for medical validation, or simply looking to freshen up your inventory of marketing tools. And, when you move people through life-changing stories, you’ll be astonished by your Return on Relationships across all stakeholders.

So, what’s your story? Is it a story of why your organization exists and why people should care? Is it a story of how your organization solves real business problems? Would you like to find out? Call us at 407.523.0604 or email us at to schedule your free 60-minute consultation and get started on your story.