Physicians and healthcare providers are - fundamentally - professional story-listeners, story-shapers, and story-responders. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; people have always related to each other and the world through the telling, listening, and interpreting of stories.
But increasingly complex health problems, compounded by social factors and other burdens, make for increasingly complex stories. Healthcare professionals make decisions, including the appropriate use of technology, based on the stories patients share. Yet, storytelling and listening are skills that are often largely omitted from the training of healthcare professionals.
Healthcare providers must think more creatively, more like creative writers. In the narrative disaster zone of the emergency department, patients’ stories often feel like first drafts, and first drafts—for most of us—can be raw and messy.
Expertise with stories is a low-tech skill that’s fundamental to connection, communication, curiosity, and problem-solving. It’s a clinical ability with multiple potential benefits, ranging from making us more mindful of our thinking to improving patient engagement. Aptitude with stories can both expand our tolerance for uncertainty and reduce risk.
We’ll focus on stories - challenging stories, in particular. We’ll discuss why healthcare providers must think more creatively, even in a field that prides itself on its grounding in scientific evidence.
Making the right diagnosis is critically important, but so is learning how to ask the right questions, developing comfort with uncertainty, and working within constraints. In order to treat patients effectively, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the story we are hearing is the one our patients are trying to tell.