One of the great things about healthcare PR is the opportunity to tell the stories of actual people. When good patient testimonials come together, the end result can have the ability to truly touch the hearts of others. Take the New York Times’ feature “Faces of Breast Cancer” as an example.

If patients are open to sharing their personal experiences, you have an opportunity to add a human element to a story. Patient stories put a face on a breakthrough procedure. They put a name to a chronic illness.

But securing patient testimonials and being able to use them effectively can be a daunting task. Between finding the right patient and teaching them how to speak with the media, there’s a lot to be done before the patient story can be told.

Here are a few tips.

Find a willing patient.

The first step may be the hardest. Patients can be intimidated by the prospect of being interviewed, especially when it comes to sharing intimate details about their own health. Work with the doctors at your organization to identify those patients who have had successful treatments or recoveries. Consider whether they’re well-spoken and informed about their health condition or procedure.

Discover the most compelling part of their story.

When screening the patient, know what questions to ask to uncover the most captivating aspect of their story. Have they been able to return to work or to a personal hobby because of treatment? Were they the first person to undergo a certain procedure? Has being healthy again empowered them to do something they never would have done before? Once you identify the most compelling part of their story, you can advise them on how to tell their story from that angle.

Make sure they know what to expect.

It’s not unreasonable for people to (a) worry about their comments being taken out of context or (b) saying the wrong thing. Before putting a patient in front of the media, it’s important to give them some media training. Explain how the media works and what to expect from an interview. Review basic interview tips with them and go over the best way to respond to questions. You want to be sure the patient is as prepared as possible.

Have you heard a patient story that stuck with you over the years?