Maya Angelou, celebrated poet, novelist and educator, is
attributed with saying "There is no greater burden than carrying an untold
story.” I would suggest that in healthcare (and in particular as we focus on
improving the patient experience), storytelling must become central to what we
do. It not only influences how staff translates ideas into actions, but it also
creates a means by which patients, families and the community can engage with
In my recent On the
Road visit to Memorial Medical Center, it became evident to me that
storytelling was central to the hospital’s ability to translate the patient
experience message to staff. Rather than lists of "must dos” or required
actions, it was the stories that people most often remembered. In fact, one
nurse manager suggested that it was the sharing of stories that gave power and
life to the concepts being taught. Storytelling has become a central part of
their orientation program and a foundational element in their effort to a greater
Stories have been shown to have much greater impact than PowerPoint
presentations, speeches or even well designed advertisements or promotions.
More so, they have a lasting effect well beyond those efforts. Stories help
people relate to a situation as if it was their own and help them to engage in
ways that facts and figures do not.
Jay Conger, senior research scientist from University of
Southern California, suggests some tips to storytelling in an organizational
setting, that I believe make storytelling a powerful tool in your patient
experience efforts. They include:
short: people tend to retain a story around 2 minutes in length.
2-3 characters: this provides an opportunity to relate to the individuals
simple: a story should be built around a single message that is clear and
in the present tense: this
allows people to experience as if they are part of the story itself.
visual images: people store and retain these images and give a story
reinforce a key phrase or concept: this ensures people are clear about the
message you are conveying.
A story that I recently heard regarding the patient
experience follows this model. This story serves as a great way to convey
expected behaviors in a patient room without having to simply list required
actions. A nurse enters a patient’s room
and finds a spill on the floor near the bed. The nurse excuses herself and
makes a quick call to housekeeping to have the spill cleaned. When housekeeping
arrives the nurse points out the spill and asks the individual to mop it up.
The housekeeper responds that it is just a few drops and that the nurse should
have been capable to wipe this up herself. The nurse then argues in fact it was
not a drop, but a spill, and therefore it was a housekeeping issue to deal
with. As the two continue to argue, the patient grabs the pitcher of water on
her bedside table, pours it all on the floor and asks them both, "it is big
enough now?” Clearly the expected behaviors and the influence on a potential
patient experience were conveyed very effectively through this simple, but
There are also stories that reinforce the impact of positive
behaviors. One such example was about a high school student who volunteers after
school at his local hospital delivering meal trays. One evening the student volunteer was on his dinner delivery rounds. As
trained, the student checked the hospital bracelet of the patient before leaving
the dinner tray. As he looked up from the bed, he saw that the IV bag had a
different name on the label. He
immediately notified the nurses who were able to quickly make the appropriate
correction. While this patient was not in any significant danger in this specific
situation, it reinforces the importance of following protocol and how every
individual plays a critical role in the overall experience of patients. By
telling a story, we effectively convey this critical message and the lesson has
a lasting impact.
At this time of year when stories are so prevalent - stories
of joy, of hope and of thanks - there is no better time to identify and frame
the stories that represent your facility or healthcare organization. What are
the stories you tell about your patient experience efforts (or what stories
should you tell)? I encourage you to
share your story with us and hope to continue to collect them as we enter the new
year. I invite you to attach your story below as a comment to this blog.
I wish you the most joyous of holiday seasons. Here is to a
year ahead full of positive stories!
Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D.
The Beryl Institute