A Look at Narrative Medicine
I hope you are all having as glorious a summer as we are having in Seattle. Its sunny, green, and a great temperature!
I have been dreaming and having frequent conversations lately about a better way forward — for healthcare, our planet, and human relations in general. One of the issues that is often raised about our healthcare system is that the voice of the patient is lost, and this is definitely a focus of healthcare advocates. Narrative medicine is a discipline that has arisen to address this. Wikipedia defines narrative medicine as follows:
Narrative medicine is a wholesome medical approach that recognizes the value of people's narratives in clinical practice, research, and education as a way to promote healing.
Columbia University Medical Center Program in Narrative Medicine describes the program by saying it “fortifies clinical practice with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness.” The fact that such a respected university has a program in Narrative Medicine shows that this field is gaining traction, as well it should. The story used to be a primary concern; now we have to name a new discipline in order to bring it back.
What is intuitively clear is that feeling that we are heard feels much better than not, and there are studies that show how this impacts our healing. Additionally, listening to the story can be lifesaving. Here is an article describing an incident that, while not lifesaving, was tremendously impactful in terms of preventing injury and pain.
An Avalanche of Data Buries the Patient Story
by Rob Lamberts, MD
I was really anxious. My father’s legs were getting weaker and his pain was worsening. He had been having pain for quite a while, and that pain was often disabling in its severity, but the weakness was alarming.... Read more.
As “modern medicine” evolves, the amount of data available has grown exponentially. Narratives are increasingly neglected in favor of facts and figures, thought to be more scientific and objective. I cannot disparage all the knowledge we have gained, but the stories and our sense of human connection, “seeing” our patients and clients, cannot be sacrificed in its favor.
Here is a great story from Intima the Journal of Narrative Medicine written by a professor at the University of Washington, Josephine Ensign, an adjunct associate professor and a leader in the field of narrative medicine.
by Josephine Ensign
Late one November night in 2000, I drove myself to the ER at the UW Medical Center... My legs had been tingling and getting progressively benumbed over the past week. The numbness started in my toes and now reached my butt and groin region, plus my toes were turning blue..... Read more.
The take home message from this article is clear. We need supportive data, but we also need the patient narrative. Both are critical to health and healing, and something important will be lost if we ignore either one.
If you'd like to hear more from Josephine Ensign, she will be a speaker at the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultant’s (NAHAC) National Conference in Seattle, November 16 - 18th, where we will be focusing on narrative medicine and interaction for the first afternoon. For more information about the conference, including additional speakers and registration, please visit the NAHAC website.
Next month, join me as I take a look at integrative medicine, another discipline that focuses on the patient / physician relationship, and is not well understood by most people.
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