I’ve never watched The Biggest Loser. I’ve never been interested. I’ve never had a significant weight problem, so it’s been tough for me to relate to the show. And I never understood why a show about people losing weight was so compelling to so many people

But for about a year now, we’ve been running our own version of The Biggest Loser on the web. We’ve been following patients from the St.Vincent Bariatric Center of Excellence as they lose weight, starting with weight loss surgery. We talked with them before their surgery, and we’ve talked with them every month since. And we’ve learned a lot.

One thing we’ve learned is that weight loss surgery is not a “cheat” or an “easy way out.” In many ways, it’s much more difficult than just diet or exercise–because it’s diet and exercise and a surgical procedure, too. The weight doesn’t come off magically. These people are determined, and they do a lot of hard work to take the weight off and keep it off.

Another thing we’ve learned is that people who are considering weight loss surgery are inspired by others who are going through it. Visitors return to MyBrandNewLife.org, the website we created for the program, week after week to watch the stories of our patients unfold. Patients use small video cameras to tell their own stories, and this video content is among the most popular content we’ve ever posted to the web, on any site. They’re inspiring.

And they’re not sugar coated. The patients tell it like it is. They share their struggles and their successes–talk about the hard times and the times they know they’re really on a path toward a brand-new life.

It’s an interesting lesson for healthcare marketers. Yes, before-and-after pictures are powerful tools for marketing weight loss surgery. People want to see results. But people also want the straight story. Bariatric surgery is a life-changing decision, and people who are considering it benefit from knowing about the willpower, the determination, and the hard work is takes to succeed.

We think that’s true in other areas of healthcare marketing, as well. We are dealing, in many cases, with life-and-death issues, and patients aren’t stupid. They know that cancer, for example, is no longer an automatic death sentence–but it’s also not something that gets cured in every case, either, and usually not without a struggle. Patients want and need hope, but they appreciate honesty, as well.

That doesn’t mean you should run ads featuring patients who’ve been through unsuccessful procedures. It certainly means you have a lot of latitude for the content you post on the Internet, though. Outcomes are important, but they’re not everything. A patient with terminal cancer can have a great experience with your physicians, and can tell a moving story. Inspirational stories, by definition, are not easy.

With that in mind, here’s a beautiful, difficult story that showcases a brave patient and the excellent care she received at St.Vincent Cancer Care. It inspires us. It moves us. And it reminds us that, when you’re dealing with life and death, the outcome is always in question, no matter where you receive care–but the patient experience makes all the difference in the world.