Friday, December 21, 2012

The Power of Storytelling in Medicine

“Regardless of one's profession, the better a storyteller you are, the greater your chances of succeeding by fully engaging and inspiring your listeners.” - John Maa

That quote came from a four page article by Dr. John Maa in the Summer 2012 issue of The Permanente Journal titled Solving the Emergency Care Crisis in America: The Power of the Law and Storytelling. He described how his 69 year-old mother died from inattention while being held in a hospital emergency department. Then he discussed what could be done to solve the emergency care crisis.

In that article he referred to another ten-page one from the 2010 Journal of Patient Safety titled Story Power: The Secret Weapon. You can download a pdf file using the link at the bottom of this web page. Both articles are excellent.

I was inspired to look up those articles after reading a review of Paul F. Griner’s book  The Power of Patient Stories: learning moments in medicine by Dr. Harriet Hall on the Science-Based Medicine blog. Harriet discusses several of Dr. Griner’s stories. I had a good laugh at one about looking without seeing (or listening without hearing):

“He asked a patient with fever and chills if his teeth chattered. The patient grinned and said, ‘Let’s look in the drawer and find out.’ His false teeth were in the drawer of the bedside table! Griner stresses the importance of good bedside skills of listening, observing, and examining; and deplores the increasing tendency of young doctors to pay more attention to test results than to patients. The great majority of diagnoses can be made on the basis of the patient’s history alone, and most of the rest are made on the physical examination. Tests should be used to confirm diagnoses, not to make them.”

An image of a physician taking a patient’s blood pressure came from the Library of Congress.

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