The power of storytelling in healthcare

Diabetes    Videomaking

IN NORTHERN QUÉBEC, Canada, the James Bay Cree are addressing their diabetes epidemic in an unusual way: by telling stories. According to The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee, every family in the traditional territory of the James Bay Cree is directly affected by diabetes, which has an impact not only on their physical health but on their financial and cultural health as well.

It’s traditional for the James Bay Cree to try to solve their problems through Talking Circles. According to an article published on The Conversation on Monday, Talking Circles assume “that health and wellness or disease and sickness might as much be about a spiritual or intellectual part of a person as about the physical being… storytelling is a healing act.” To Western ears this may sound unconvincing, but storytelling has indisputable power. My personal and lifelong belief in the power of stories is partly why I moved into film production. Not only do stories help individuals form bonds with each other and develop a sense of intimacy, they help us to communicate complex ideas in simple, easy-to-understand and emotionally impactful ways.

Too often in healthcare, patients are given clinical answers to clinical questions. There’s a place for medical jargon and expert language, but a lot of what we need to know is understandable – straightforward information that, if communicated effectively, is retained for good. Once we have that knowledge at our disposal for the long term, we are equipped to tackle the challenges to our health personally.

This is where storytelling comes in. Whether it’s a movie or one of Advanced Tissue’s video tutorials, stories can be engaging, persuasive and informative. They resonate with people in a way that data or complex language never will.

Let’s take prediabetes, a condition characterized by the presence of blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classed as diabetes. Prediabetes is reversible, but if it isn’t addressed, it can rapidly lead to type-2 diabetes, which is associated with numerous health problems and, ultimately, can be fatal. A list of numbers or bullet points is unlikely to inspire those at risk to make a long-term commitment to educate themselves, and make the lifestyle changes necessary to restore their health. But a story that provokes and inspires, and connects with you on an emotional level, might.

Those of us with leadership roles in the healthcare industry would do well to give greater thought to how we can use the power of storytelling to make positive change. As the number of people with obesity or diabetes grows across the United States, it’s vitally important that we look outside of treatment to how we can inform people, how we can encourage self-discipline and responsibility and save lives – not to mention our economy – in the process.

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