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Find ways to include patient voices formally and informally.

Less Can Be More in Patient Storytelling

An increasing number of healthcare professionals are realizing the importance of hearing and sharing patient stories. By sharing the patient experience, it provides a unique insight into what’s working, what’s not working and what needs to be tweaked.

It also helps healthcare providers see how, what may be an everyday task for them, is viewed and experienced from the patient perspective.

I‘ve previously written about how to tell your patient story. While this is great advice for more formal or first-person patient stories (for presentations, annual reports, videos), there is also an opportunity to tell patient stories in a more informal way.

So what do I mean by informal?

This is where the patient story is relayed by someone other than the patient. Healthcare providers are surrounded by patient stories each and every day. There are so many learnings to be shared by finding ONE patient story that relates to a key focus or challenge area.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a hospital is working on reducing the number of falls by patients and staff. Research has been done on the most common fall hazards. Stats are being compiled on the number of falls, age of the person and whether they are a patient or staff. Each month, the senior management team reviews the stats to see if the number of falls are going up or down.

So what’s missing? The patient voice and perspective.

Now here’s the best part. It doesn’t need to be complicated by recruiting a patient, documenting their story, getting the necessary release forms, then sharing the story via video or written story. Since this can be time consuming, it often means skipping the patient story instead of investing the time.

So here’s a simpler option that still includes the patient experience. A member of the senior management team could, prior to the meeting, talk with front-line staff. Ask them if they have witnessed a fall or seen how a fall has been prevented.

Now get some details to set the stage. Where was it? ER, radiology, surgical or another area? What time of day? Who was around (not names just details such as a busy waiting room with a number of patients and staff)? What happened? If it was a fall, was it preventable? How? If it was a near miss, talk about how it was prevented?

Once the details have been collected, the member of senior management now has a story to tell when the fall stats are given at the meeting.

So why is this important? The time it takes to talk to front-line staff about a fall, reinforces the importance of this focus area — both for the manager and the frontline staff. It also sends a message to the staff, that managers take fall prevention seriously and want to learn more about how fall prevention programs are working on the floors.

And most importantly, it tells a real story related to falls or fall prevention.

It’s these simply ways of sharing patient stories and experiences that are often overlooked, yet are the easiest way of including a patient perspective.

Yes, there is a place for the more formal patient stories, told by patients themselves in their own voice. But there is also an opportunity for healthcare providers to do some research, find out some patient stories helping in their facility, and share them at meetings. This helps bring life to an otherwise routine agenda item.

If you sit on a healthcare committee, ask yourself, how are patient stories included in your meetings? Is there a place, at the beginning of the agenda, to share a patient story? Are specific patient experiences shown as examples for agenda items to bring a human face?

Now see how you can include patient voices — formally and informally — into your committee meetings.

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Writer, communications professional, speaker and patient advocate. Visit for free communications tools to help share your stories.

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