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Authentic storytelling in healthcare

May 22, 2015

By Christoph Trappe (@CTrappe)

headshot of Christoph Trappe

Christoph Trappe

Stories connect families, communities and organizations. Some stories are positive, others are negative and some are closer to neutral, but no matter the organization, people share stories about it.

People share their experiences with others. They share their perceptions. Sometimes they share their evaluations of a situation – right or wrong.

Authentic stories in healthcare can be told from the perspective of the organization or the patient. Stories can also be told from other perspectives, like a patient’s spouse, an employee or somebody else. For this post, I’ll focus on the organization and patient perspectives.

The biggest sticky point happens when a person shares a story publicly that includes someone else and that person does not agree with the author’s representation of the facts. And there can be multiple versions of the perceived facts with none of them completely accurate or inaccurate. Sometimes all versions are accurate; just different points of view.

For that reason, it’s good to invite people to collaborate in the storytelling process. Here’s how that could work.

For organizations

Having found a story worth sharing, invite the main players to tell it in their own words.

  • “Here’s what happened to me….’
  • “Here’s what that meant to me and how it affected me…”

Then you may have a person from the organization add their perspective. Finally, a subject matter expert may add context that has not been discussed yet.

  • “Here’s what this means to all of us…”
  • “_______ is part of a growing trend of … Here’s what we are doing about it…”

Collaboration creates an authentic story that is more than a status quo marketing message. In this video excerpt, I demonstrate how the status quo can be hard to change. It is possible. But it takes effort.

For patients

People share things publicly when it makes them look good or when they are really mad about something. Sharing a rant might feel therapeutic but usually doesn’t help many others. Authentic stories aren’t always positive and that’s OK. But even when they are not, there are ways to share them that allows others to learn from them.

I’ve shared two very personal stories publicly. One about a miscarriage and another about seeing a plastic surgeon. Eight years passed before I could publish my story about the miscarriage. In both cases, I tried to share the stories in a way that they might be educational for others. Maybe even inspiring.

Rants aren’t usually educational. So before publishing one, first think about what good it will do. Is there a way that it can be rewritten in a way to be educational for others? Also, consider how the subject of your rant might feel about the story and if they don’t agree with your recollection. I recommend reaching out and sharing your perception of the story with them.

Authentic storytelling isn’t as simple as sitting down and just starting to share stories. When done right, it can be mutually beneficial for both individuals and organizations.

I look forward to discussing further with #hcsmca May 27 at 9pm ET.

  • T1: As patient, what effective way(s) have you told your story or stories publicly?
  • T2: If you have shared your story publicly, what motivated you to share it? did you face any challenges?
  • T3: What examples of good storytelling have you seen? By patients? By organizations?
  • T4: What are the barriers have you run into in organizational storytelling?

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