Storytelling digital platform that can help save lives

Northwell has a goal to address the whole person physically and emotionally


Northwell Health is trying something new with the launch of The Well. The new website “is a health-focused editorial platform committed to promoting wellness,” says the healthcare network, that will use essays, first-person narratives, video programming and photography. It was introduced last week.

“People want to read a good story that is relevant to their life,” said Gina Czark, of Great Neck, Northwell’s associate vice president of content management. “We wanted to create a platform so people don’t feel alone during their health care journey. We’re using storytelling to engage the community.”

Glen Cove Hospital and LIJ Valley Stream Hospital are members of Northwell Health, as are 21 other hospitals. Although The Well is on Northwell’s website, it can provide guidance and information for anyone, whether or not they are planning a hospital stay.

When people have health concerns, they often initially visit websites detailing symptoms. “Social media can actually make things more stressful,” Czark said. “The Well is the future. People want real stories that are relevant to their lives.”

Each week, a new story is posted under one of a variety of banners: “True Story,” “Day In the Life,” “Well Informed,” “Dear Doctor,” even “Well Fed.” There are currently 33 stories on the site.

Northwell says it is the first health care network to offer a digital platform that is not devoted to advertising its hospitals. “We recognize that there’s a huge gap in the way hospitals and health care systems tell their stories,” said Sarah DiBari, of Glen Head, its director of content, production and editorial, who has been working on the site for the past year. “We were looking for a new way to talk to our patients and the community. The stories on The Well are more editorial in nature. You don’t feel like you have landed in a hospital website.”

In “The Flu Is Here,” which offers advice on how to avoid catching the virus and what to do if you get it, Glen Cove Hospital’s Dr. Barbara Keber shares her love of family medicine before getting into the details of this year’s strain. The medical advice she offers is patient-friendly, as if it is coming from a friend.

One article, “The First Day of the Rest of My Life,” shares a woman’s experiences and emotions after she completes her last chemotherapy treatment. The author, Jen Rozenbaum, of Roslyn, shared her experience with breast cancer, a mastectomy and her recovery in a previous article.

Another story, in the “Day in the Life” category, follows a Northwell Health neurosurgery resident to find out, as the title says, “What it’s really like to be a brain surgeon.”

In a video called “How my worst day became my best,” a paramedic details his days on the job, and the emotional toll it takes may surprise some.

There is also advice from professionals like social workers. Some stories focus on everyday issues, like how to deal with a stubborn teen, which is included in “Dear Doctor.” The category “Well Informed” includes a story on what to do when it’s time for your daughter’s first visit to the gynecologist.

Czark manages a team of content strategists, producers and award-winning journalists to create content for the site. “Our writers are from national publications including USA Today, the Atlantic, NPR, and one is a Peabody Award winner,” she said. “We’re all working to align our content to what’s happening in the news cycle.”

Julie Shapiro, of Port Washington, has written a number of first-person stories. Growing up in Merrick, she said, she always loved writing, but never imagined her career would take her to The Well, where she is the assistant managing editor. Sometimes the stories are from her own experiences. “I had a colonoscopy,” she said. “I found my experience to be hilarious and wanted to write about it. I also wrote about my mammography, which wasn’t so funny.”

She contacted the head of imaging at Northwell to share her mammography experience, and then wrote about what she learned. “I found out why they do things that women don’t like while having a mammography,” she said. “The article is called ‘Hate Mammograms? Read this.’”

She was sold on the appeal of first-person writing after doing it herself prior to joining Northwell. “I was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years, and took up photography at that time,” she said. “I took 350 photos, one per day, and set up a blog. It really took off, making me realize there’s something to this first-person writing.”

She answered Northwell’s ad for copywriters. “In my interview, I spoke about first-person writing, about combining it with expert advice. We have access at Northwell to world-class experts.”

She also brought up her love of blogging. The Well, she says, “takes people’s hands and says to them, ‘You are not the only person dealing with this. Let me show you.’ The people on The Well are all local people helping each other.”

Dr. Stacey Rosen was interviewed for the site. As the former chief cardiologist at Long Island Jewish hospital and now the vice president of women’s health at the Katz Institute, she has found that women are the driving force in health care decisions. “I have spoken a great deal about how women drive decisions for the family,” she said. “Decisions are made 80 percent of the time by women. Northwell and Katz want to be the trusted partners for them. You can teach and learn a lot through storytelling.”

The stories are memorable, Rosen said. “The Well is a way to reach more people, it’s a unique approach to educating our community and it resonates. And it empowers people.”

To experience The Well go to