Vaccines: How to Tell a Better Story than Your Patients’ Friends

April 19, 2017


During World War II, there was a young U.S. Army medic named Ray. He was in Europe when he received a letter that his 6-year-old sister had passed away. He was flown home to attend the funeral and be with his family. Except, Ray never actually attended the funeral, nor did he get to spend time with his family.

Ray’s sister died of Polio. So he wouldn’t contract the disease, he stayed with some neighbors where to his family from afar. After the funeral, mourners gathered at his parents’ home. Ray listened to the conversations from the backyard of the neighbor’s home, and occasionally talked to his family through a hole in the fence. Years later, he came home a decorated veteran, having been one of the liberators of Dachau Concentration Camp.

Though Ray never contracted Polio himself, he lost two siblings and four cousins to the disease. For him, it was a bright day when the Polio vaccine became available to the public. And thanks to that vaccine, Polio has been eradicated in the United States.

People relate to experiences.

What you just read above is a powerful story, and it’s a real story. It’s not a tagline (“vaccines save lives”) or a warning (“if you choose not to vaccinate you are endangering your child and the public at large”). It’s an anecdotal example of how much vaccines have changed the way we live for the better. When your patients are skeptical of a certain treatment or vaccines, it’s likely they heard a story about someone experiencing negative effects. No, stories are not scientific evidence, but they are compelling and easily remembered. Simply responding with facts and figures totally misses the point. Stories speak to the core of our fears, because people relate to experiences, not statistics.

Despite your evidence to the contrary, your patients are hearing stories from their friends about how their kids (or their friend’s sister’s brother-in-law’s kids) experienced negative symptoms immediately after receiving vaccines. They’ve been shown pictures. They’ve imagined their own children in the same situation. While your patients by-and-large are not medical professionals, they have been given this awesome responsibility to raise another human being, and are terrified of making the wrong decision.

Collect Stories.

It’s time to collect some stories. Obviously, we would never suggest HIPAA violations, but it’s perfectly reasonable to share a story you read in an article or a historical story like the one above. The best kind of story is one that is personal, a story that affects you. Change the name, place and even particular circumstance, but vulnerability is a very powerful tool in communicating with the patients who are willing to be vulnerable with you. Vulnerability fosters trust, and assures your patients that you want what’s best for their children, too.

Create time to care.

With all the changes that have come to the healthcare industry, nothing has suffered more than the doctor/patient relationship. Taking the time to talk and sympathize is essential to helping patients make the best choices for their health. For this reason, M*Modal is the in the business of creating time to care. Learn more about how we can give you time back with your patients by clicking here.