Earlier this month, HealthComU guest contributor Heather Earl shared her story of losing two of her children to a terminal illness. Soon after her blog post went live on the HealthComU website, it was clear that it was reaching a wide audience. Her story was honest and emotional, and the HealthComU team was proud that she decided to share it with us and our community. As I watched the reach for Heather’s blog post grow across the afternoon and evening, I started to wonder what it was about this particular post that was resonating with readers. As I tooled around on our website, I was reminded of another post that has “performed” spectacularly for us: another guest post, written by our Boston University classmate and alum Kat Quinn about her daughter’s battle with cystic fibrosis—especially during cold season.
These posts have something pretty important in common: first-person storytelling. Both women are beautiful writers, and that no doubt helps with the popularity of these posts. But it’s more than that. These posts, as well as many others that have appeared on HealthComU, have the powerful element of someone telling their story in an effort to communicate an important health communication message.
It seems they are on to something. Research shows that story sharing promotes health. It can be therapeutic for both the story teller and the listener/reader. Telling your story can be incredibly powerful and even help someone feel a little control in a world where everything seems to be beyond their command. On the other hand, listening to or reading someone’s story can make people in similar situations realize they are not alone in their fight against whatever it is they are fighting.
It is this idea that promoted the SharingClinic at Massachusetts General Hospital Paul S. Russell Museum, which is slated to launch in January 2016. According to Dr. Annie Brewster, an internist at the hospital who has been working on the SharingClinic kiosk for the past four years, “The project was born out of frustration with a medical system that no longer has the time to really listen to patients.”
SharingClinic is a collection of audio clips from patients who are battling a range of illnesses. These first-person patient stories will eventually be accompanied by clips from family members, physicians, nurses, and other care providers. Users will be able to search by diagnosis, theme, and perspective to hear personal out takes that may help them better deal with a health challenge.
Brewster believe SharingClinic meets the needs of patients that sometimes get overlooked in an atmosphere that is so focused on “maximizing efficiency and scientific mastery.” She adds that “It seems obvious to me that when people are ill, the context of their lives—their stories—are essential to their healing.” It is this way of thinking, as well as her own experience living with multiple sclerosis, that resulted in Brewster’s non-profit, Health Story Collaborative, where the mission is to “keep the patient voice alive in health care and to harness the healing power of stories.”
This project has great potential, and it will be exciting to see how SharingClinic helps fill a much needed gap for patients. As health communicators, we are often so focused on how we should tell the “story.” The SharingClinic suggests that maybe the best thing we can do as professionals is to sit back and let the patients lead the way.