Article Series

Carilion Clinic embraces content marketing to tell stories of extraordinary patient care, turnaround in employee attitudes

Carilion’s series shows the versatility and power of storytelling to change worker attitudes, increase staff collaboration, and impress patient audiences with a hospital’s changed brand.

Carilion Clinic is the clear winner in the Best Article Series (Print or Electronic) category in Ragan’s 2012 Employee Communications Awards for its continuing story series, “Inspiring Better Health.”

Carilion won because its editors used excellent human-interest stories to tell the public what the clinic’s new ways of working with patients have meant for sufferers and victims of disease. The hospital plays an important, but always secondary, role to the patients’ stories. 

This editorial and institutional self-denial by Carilion Clinic communicators is all the more remarkable because Carilion made difficult reforms in its Cardiac Surgery patient administration procedures in 2012—reforms that reached far beyond the Cardiac Surgery unit. 

The nursing staff in Cardiac Surgery made heroic efforts to bring the incidence of Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia, or VAP, at Carilion down to near zero in just one year. And the payoff was tremendous. 

The masterly story about the nurses in the Cardiac Surgery unit’s all-out charge to wipe out VAP at Carilion was titled, “It Became Personal.” This 800-word tale illustrates many of the most important principles of content marketing and humanistic storytelling:

  • It is a real story, about human risk-taking by the Cardiac Surgery nurses.
  • Carilion Clinic’s patients are at the center of the story, and patients are its beneficiaries.
  • It has surprises that make the attentive reader say, “That can’t be true!”
  • It has drama: the rise from humiliation to an undreamed-of triumph.
  • Real discoveries about inadequate hospital procedures and the need for better internal communications pop up as the drama unfolds.
  • The writer is factual and concise, wary of getting easy effects from the material.
  • The denouement is completely satisfying without being corny or sentimental.

Other stories in the “Inspiring Better Health” series are just as interesting and just as tightly written as “It Became Personal.” 

Another story, “A Multidisciplinary, Long-Term Approach,” will reward close study by all organizational communicators. This little masterpiece teaches:

  1. If you have a story with two heroes, put one of them in a long sidebar, to give special attention without distracting from the narrative.
  2. Show how the transformative idea came to him or her, and how it became a best practice.
  3. Show how her revolutionary idea has spread to other parts of the organization and gained a foothold as a best practice nationally.
  4. Relate her idea to the main story, in this case, Carilion’s outpatient care clinic for heart-failure victims.

This story and its sidebar did a tremendous job of showing how two nurses, thinking hard about their jobs, revolutionized out- and in-patient heart failure care at Carilion Clinic. That is the key: Show people thinking about and solving problems.

Every one of the 27 articles in this series will repay study by communicators. The intranet staff responsible for this unremitting flow of excellence includes Anne Shaver, Marianne Wilder, Eric Sollinger, Karen Dillon, Nicholas Buehring, Greg Bowman, Amy Moore, and Amy Hoots-Hendrix.

To view the winning work, click here.

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