Recognizing the Impact of Storytelling in Healthcare

Healthcare is not just knowing disease, it’s about knowing the patient as a whole and standing with them.

This video was originally published by TEDx Talks and republished with permission. For the original posting, click here

Suffering through an illness can be a frightening, confusing, debilitating time in anyone’s life, as Doctor Rita Charon knows all too well. As a medical professional, she of course has a deeply rooted desire to help others. As a voracious reader, she came to the recognize that patients often had important, untold stories that could provide key information about the nature of their illnesses. She understands that medicine should not only heal the physical body, but comfort the mind and soul as well. Dr. Charon understands very well that a comprehensive approach to diagnosis that includes storytelling is much more effective – that the body and mind are interconnected and that the goal is to treat both in what she refers to as narrative medicine.

With the creation of narrative medicine, Dr. Charon taught herself and other healthcare professionals how to closely examine everything a patient said. To read between the lines and extract information about the disease at hand not just from physical conditions, but through a patient’s storytelling as well. She explains how this approach allowed her to witness profound changes. Most doctors will begin the process of diagnosing by asking a laundry list of common questions. Instead, Dr. Charon invites the patient to share their stories and what information they feel is important to their condition. Rather than writing down answers and checking off lists, she pays close attention to the verbal and nonverbal clues an helps her patients not just overcome physical issues, but alleviate mental concerns as well.

This storytelling approach helps Dr. Charon cultivate a better connection with her patients and help them recognize the importance of feeling at ease with our situations. That even if we face something scary like cancer, we are not alone and even if no one else understands, the doctor knows the patient’s story and will stand with them in facing mortality. Her approach helps ease the mind as well as the body.

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