How many times have you sat in a lecture hall, struggling to pay attention and focus on the very important, yet very boring and technical information being shared by a professor or presenter? How many times have you sat, riveted in your seat, hanging on every word of someone who is sharing a well-told case study for grand rounds? When it comes to communication in medicine, often the information that needs to be communicated to physicians, office staff, and patients isn’t the most interesting, so finding ways to share key points in a way that holds the attention of the recipient can be a challenge.
How can storytelling be used in medicine to help improve communication? Good storytelling doesn’t have to begin with a “Once Upon a Time” scenario. You don’t need to light a campfire and break out the marshmallows to incorporate storytelling into your patient care. All you need is an interesting way to present facts and instructions to your patients that will be relevant to their lives.
When you take information that may be complex and share it with a personal narrative or custom approach that is a reflection of your patient’s day, it will be much easier for them to relate and engage with your instructions or suggestions. For example, if you have a patient who makes poor eating choices and they are putting their health at risk, try appealing to their pocketbook, rather than just lecturing them about how they need to eat better. Though they might think those fast food dollar items are saving them money, when you point out the costly medications and treatments that will be a staple for a patient with heart disease, they may take lifestyle changes a little more seriously.
In the other direction, having patients share their personal experiences with you in regards to their medical issues, treatment experiences, or even their daily lives and habits, you can gain a better understand of how their lifestyle and their medical issues intertwine. By having them recount the tale of when their symptoms started, giving detail of their activities, daily routine, and other key factors can give a lot of insight into underlying causes, potential treatments, and other accompanying issues that you may not have considered.
Additionally, incorporating storytelling to help explain policy changes, treatment exceptions, and similar issues with staff can help them to gain a better understanding of the reasoning behind administrative decisions. By adding a personal spin to problem-solving, everyone can get on board and work together to create the best work environment and outcomes.
While storytelling may not be the answer to every communication challenge, employing it when possible is a great way to hold the attention of your patients and staff to ensure that they are receiving and digesting the information you need to share. By encouraging patients to present their case information in an anecdotal format, you may end up having access to more facts than you would from just a symptom list. Finding ways to incorporate storytelling into your everyday practice can help to create an atmosphere of open communication and understanding.
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