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Ask the Expert: Building Credibility with Empathy through Content with Physician-Directed Interviews

Arguably, one of the best ways to prove your trustworthiness as a business is by displaying your customer reviews. However, healthcare and wellness practices are uniquely locked out of this method by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): the legislation that protects patient data from being accessed by the public.

So are testimonials out of the picture if you’re a healthcare and wellness company? Not necessarily. There is a way you can still build up trust in your brand without having to violate any patient protection – and that’s by interviewing the physicians themselves.

Why HIPAA Matters

First off, it’s important to clarify that just because a physician is the subject of your interview, it doesn’t mean that HIPAA regulations no longer apply. Physicians are still forbidden from disclosing too much about their patients, especially if it’s related to their protected health information, or PHI.

A PHI is any identifiable information about a patient’s past, present, and future health status. It includes (but is not limited to) the following bits of data:

  • Full name or names of close contacts/relatives
  • Contact information, both offline and offline
  • Dates of birth (or other relevant dates for their treatments)
  • Identifiers (vehicle licenses or phone addresses)
  • Photos of the patient or anything related to the patient

PHI (and by extension the HIPAA laws that apply to it) is a standard of patient protection. There are serious penalties to breaching this – and more often than not, these breaches can be far easier to fall into than you may think.

There are numerous ways that healthcare and wellness companies can get a HIPAA violation, but basically, if you share any bit of information online or offline that can be traced back to a specific patient (or group of patients), then it’s most likely a HIPAA violation.

HIPAA-Compliant Physician Representation

So given all this, why ask the physician instead of the patient, if their hands are equally tied? While it may seem like HIPAA regulations apply even more to the physicians and providers compared to the patients, it’s really about how you angle those questions that make a difference.

The point of your interviews – and the subsequent content that you’ll create out of them – is that you’ll deliver useful information for any potential patients that may want to put themselves in your care. This information doesn’t necessarily have to be anything identifiable, it just has to be something that patients will find valuable.

This type of information doesn’t violate HIPAA regulations, because technically the physician is going to talk about themselves, not about their patients. And while it may sound a bit difficult to separate the two, it is possible given the right questions.

What to Ask the Experts

So what kind of questions can you ask your physicians that will make for interesting content while also staying HIPAA-compliant? The key here is to shift focus to them instead of their patients. By asking the right type of questions, you can lead them into talking about themselves, their treatments, and how it helps them do what they do best.

1) Focus on patients, not a patient

First, never ask about a patient. Anything identifiable – no matter how small – can be a potential breach of HIPAA. However, this doesn’t mean that talking about their patients is taboo. What you need to ask are questions that affect all patients universally. This can be especially useful if the physician handles procedures like cosmetic treatments.

Some talking points can be:

  • What are some common concerns patients may have when they come to you for a consultation?
  • As a physician, what kind of patients have you found to respond best to your treatments?
  • Are there resources patients can consult before their treatment/consultation for more information?

2) Talk in terms of experiences, not specifics

Physicians have plenty of experience in their field, not just with having to deal with patients. While their treatments certainly take up the brunt of their work, it’s also a good idea to ask them how they feel about their profession.

Some talking points can be:

  • What’s the most difficult part for you about administering your treatments?
  • Is there something that you’ve encountered that you wish more patients knew?
  • How do you know when you’ve done a good job on your patient?

3) Encourage them to talk about their journey in healthcare

Physicians take a long journey to get where they are in healthcare – and sometimes, that journey isn’t something that most patients know about. Depending on the physician, they can have a very interesting story to tell of how they got where they are today and why they do what they do.

  • What made you decide to pursue this line of work?
  • Are there any standout experiences you’ve had while you were training?
  • Is there something you’d like to assure patients that you’ve learned in training?

4) Comment on ongoing innovations in healthcare and wellness

Physicians need to keep pace with the latest developments in their field. Aside from being a part of their continuing education, it also helps them stay up-to-date with the best ways to treat their patients. Sometimes, physicians are even the first ones to pioneer these types of advancements.

  • Are there any upcoming advancements in your industry that you’re excited about?
  • What’s a new type of treatment that patients may not be aware of?
  • Do you have any opinions on treatments in your industry that can be improved?

5) Take a look into their day-to-day treatments in your practice

For a truly personal look into the life of a physician, few things are better to ask than how their average day looks like at work. This benefits your business in two ways: it allows patients a glimpse into how you treat your clients and it helps to make your treatments relatable on a personal level.

  • How do you prepare for your day of treatments?
  • What are the most fun/difficult parts of your day-to-day tasks?
  • Are there things about how you do the daily treatments that you’d like to change?

Why This Approach Works

Physicians can provide a unique insight into your practice’s treatments without having to compromise patient confidentiality. Not only does this ensure that your business doesn’t violate HIPAA laws, but it also has several benefits that may be comparable to or even better than patient testimonials:

1) Makes your practice more approachable

Interviewing a physician gives your business a face that your patients can associate with. This helps you connect better with existing and potential clients on a personal level since they can identify someone that can help them with their concerns when they come to you. This sense of familiarity can also help with new-patient jitters.

2) Explains your services

Your services can be somewhat difficult to talk about as words on a page: so why not have the physician explain them? Their experience with their treatment can be told in such a way that it’s general enough to not violate HIPAA guidelines. But it's familiar enough with the process that even patients can understand what’s happening.

3) Can be a more compelling narrative

Physicians can often be given a bad rep: we’ve all heard stories about bad doctors before. By interviewing your physicians, you’re able to shine a spotlight on the people who can do the most to correct your audience’s bad impression of medical or cosmetic treatments. They’re most likely to explain their side well and be a more interesting story than a thousand patient responses that your audience has seen before.

When Asking the Expert is a Better Option

Client testimonials are usually some of the best ways you can get your brand more credibility – but because healthcare and wellness companies need to deal with patients, this can be a difficult thing to pull off. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. By shifting perspective from the patient to the provider and making sure your questions don’t violate HIPAA regulations, you can go forward with an approach that’s just as relatable.

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