Narrative medicine helps physicians hear patients' deeper concerns

The importance of strong physician-patient communication has been well documented, as have the challenges. But a new tool, called narrative medicine, may offer a way for physicians to better connect to their patients by changing the way they listen to their stories.

"What patients complain about the most is, 'My doctor doesn't listen to me,' or 'I feel like I'm alone in my illness,'" Rita Charon, executive director of the Columbia University Medical Center's narrative medicine program in New York City, told HealthDay News. "Narrative medicine is a way for people who take care of sick persons to hear what they say, to understand their concerns, to enter the world of the patients, so as to know what can be done in their care," she said.

An example of narrative medicine comes from a pediatrician who saw a young boy in her office for a cut on his hand that didn't appear on the surface to require medical intervention. But having recently attended a training session in narrative medicine, the doctor asked the boy's mother as to whether there was anything else she wanted to say about the scissors the boy had cut himself with. It turned out that a boarder renting a room in the family's home who was HIV positive had previously cut himself with the scissors, and the mother was worried her son could have been exposed to the virus.

The idea of narrative medicine is beginning to catch on among practicing physicians. Paul Gross, a physician in the family and social medicine department at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City has worked to help physicians share stories similar to the scenario above through a weekly online magazine called Pulse--Voices from the heart of medicine. Similarly, Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons Program in Narrative Medicine aims to help doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists to improve the effectiveness of care by developing the capacity for attention, reflection, representation and affiliation with patients and colleagues, Kansas City Public Media reported.

To learn more:
- read the story from HealthDay News
- check out the interview from Kansas City Public Media