Creating Stories That Matter to Patients and Providers

Shekhar Kapur, the Hollywood/Bollywood director who directed Elizabeth and Mr. India, gives an excellent TED talk below that examines how valuable stories are to the expression of the self. He claims that we are the stories we tell–that without the ability to tell stories we would “go mad”. When he evaluates a script, he looks at the story from the psychological level, the plot line, the political level, and the mythological level to find the truth the story is trying to convey. This truth is what he believes will ultimately move an audience and it is up to him to convey this truth visually. Storytelling ultimately is the search for harmony, he says, which is greater than just a fleeting moment of resolution.

How does this apply to medicine and medical education? Because engaging patients will require a type of harmony, or at the very least a deeper connection, that good stories–the ones that stir the heart or hit like a punch to the gut–inspire to create the real change needed in healthcare.

So how do non-English majors or filmmakers like Kapur learn to tell good stories in healthcare environments in order to move colleagues and patients? Ryan Biggs offers some simple techniques to exercise your storytelling muscles in the blog post, A Quirky Experiment Proves the Value of Story Driven Content. Substitute “marketing” with “healthcare” and see how good storytelling might be implemented in your own health system:

  1. Brainstorm a new marketing campaign by starting with the phrase “Once upon a time…” and conclude with “and so customers lived happily ever after.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the story you end up creating.
  2. Write a letter to a friend about your product, service, or brand. The letter format encourages a more natural narrative and eliminates buzzwords.
  3. Distill your marketing story down to 140 characters. All strong stories can be condensed to a single sentence. Stuck? Start by creating a message map.
  4. Create an Aesop’s Fable that uses your brand or product as the protagonist. Don’t forget to include a moral.

A previous ETY post, The Power of Storytelling in Medicine, which references Jonathan Gottschall’s, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human is also a good foundational read on storytelling.

Follow ETY for more tips on incorporating storytelling into your healthcare improvement projects! And please tell us how you have used story in your own piece of the world to get your message across.

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