Narrative Medicine Improves Care

Unburdening one’s self by sharing the story of a difficult time or situation with a close friend or confidant can ease stress and help people put their challenges in perspective, feeling better overall.  And recently more healthcare professionals are using “narrative medicine”, in which patients are asked to share their life story as part of taking their medical history.  Having a patients’ perspective can help better inform health care decisions and create a deeper relationship.

As part of an initiative by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the My Life Story program uses storytelling to shed light on health issues that otherwise may have gone undetected.  To date, more than 1,500 interviews have been recorded as part of a more patient-centered care model.  The grant program began in 2013 in mental health services and has trained staff and volunteers to interview patients, beginning by asking them what they want their care team to know about them as a person. 

Understanding a patient’s life situation fully can help health care providers create a more appropriate care plan.  With insight into the history and daily life of patients, doctors can make better-informed decisions and connect with patients on a more meaningful level.

While the program currently exists only for veterans at present, the practice of sharing a bit more of the life story of a patient, particularly an older adult, can be included in any health care visit.  Patients who are willing to talk a bit about their recent losses or changes in living circumstances can give their health care provider the tools to better assess wellness and develop a more individually tailored plan.   It’s all a part of being an advocate for your own health.  And caregivers for elderly adults can also participate by sharing a bit of history which may lead to a better understanding of the patient and their unique needs.