Answers, not care

A consistent component of the conversations I have recently had with a range of healthcare providers has been a need to start thinking about their verbal identities. Some of them are beginning to appreciate that a new narrative can be a significant differentiator in making partners, customers and patients choose and trust their organisations, and that this is a way of making their mark in a rather noisy and challenging world.

This thinking is both timely and exciting. Timely, because the whole industry needs to get its head around the fact that patients/consumers will take a much more active role in their healthcare decisions and expenditures in future; the days of the disengaged healthcare consumer and patient are numbered. Exciting, because this is an opportunity for healthcare organisations to use the narrative as a stimulus to reorientate themselves towards patients. For too long the narrative has been ‘we put patients at the heart of everything we do’ (sound familiar?) but when one looks behind the rhetoric, organisations configure themselves around internal needs and not around the needs and preferences of patients.

My conversations have also revealed that although well intentioned, many providers don’t quite know how to progress in this regard. For those in the same boat, I thought to share these three simple considerations that might help to break the inertia.

  1. Don’t just leave this with your comm’s team. This is an initiative that will affect the entire organisation and as such must involve the senior leadership, wider teams, stakeholders and patients. Nominate a senior champion who will drive this initiative and ensure it diffuses across the organisation.
  2. Ensure that the new narrative is strongly anchored to the organisation’s future business and commercial development initiatives. It’s not just a tool for increasing awareness. A verbal identity can seem like a fluffy expense but once you start winning business because you are better differentiated and your customers choose you over others, you’ll certainly make your CFO lean forward!
  3. When you finally get down to forming the narrative, kick off the first session with your teams by banning the word ‘CARE’ from being included anywhere in the new verbal identity. This will get your teams thinking! If we are really going to be outside in (i.e. truly patient/customer focused) and develop a differentiated narrative that allows us to better engage with our patients and communities then we have to speak like they speak. We have to recognise that ‘care’ is a very inside-out word. Patients do not call the doctor, or physio, or nurse asking for ‘care’. What they are actually calling for is answers to their questions about what’s troubling them, wanting pain taken away or wanting to return to normal activities but need help figuring out what’s possible.


Thanks for reading this post. I’d be very interested in any views and discussion that it might have stimulated.

This has been ‘Away from the Heard’: The Saffron Steer blog.