Medical Storytelling: Telling Effective Stories That Matter

We learn from an early age that stories are a great way to learn. As children, we ask our parents to tell us stories. As we go through school, we typically remember some of our best teachers who taught us through stories. Many of the important learning moments we experience throughout our life, especially those that have challenged the way we think, are those that we have learned through stories.

So if this is such a basic concept, then why do we have so much “death by PowerPoint” when we share new ideas with each other in the healthcare industry? My grandfather, who never went to college, would tell me it is because we want everyone to know how smart we are vs just saying what we mean. We want something flashy (which maybe was PowerPoint back in the 90s) that catches attention (all of those unique PowerPoint text build animations) that will help demonstrate the importance of our message. But what if they don’t remember any of it because they were so distracted with all of that “flash”?

Many times when we teach new concepts or launch new products, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, we have a tendency to overexplain (sometimes out of caution, but usually due to a lack of focused messaging). This becomes a data dump of regulatory documents like prescribing information and important safety information. This information is absolutely important, but when it takes up the majority of the content, it can be overwhelming and practically impossible to recall after the event.

What if we were to focus only on the key behaviors and associated beliefs we are trying to change? Then take some creative lessons from the film industry to design the most concise compelling story to change those behaviors and beliefs. We could still incorporate key data and package insert information as reinforcing points, but the key focus would be on the story—something they will remember, and therefore something with a higher likelihood of making a lasting impact.

So, when you are preparing your next “slide presentation,” consider what it is you are truly trying to accomplish, and craft content that will appeal to the audience and stick in their memory. What are those key attitudes/behaviors you want to change? Generate content that they will remember through the effective use of storytelling, backed and supported by the relevant data and regulatory information.