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Are stories good medicine?

February 11, 2011

Check out this NY Times article about the relationship between story telling and patient health.

A recent study included 299 African Americans with hypertension who either watched DVDs with general health related messages or stories from similar patients about their experiences.  The research found that the story telling group noticed a substantial decrease in their blood pressure.

Patients communicated with other patients in a way that their  white coated doctors never could.  It’s one thing to hear your physician talk about what should do to treat your condition, it’s another to hear it first hand from someone who knows.  Here’s what the study authors say-

Storytelling can change attitudes and behavior by decreasing cognitive resistance. Patients can “enter” the world of the characters and become absorbed in the narrative content, rather than focusing on the embedded subtext of behavior change.  Identification with the characters is promoted by homophily, or perceived similarity between the characters and the patient.

What does this mean?  Of course, more research needs to be done, but it’s possible that physicians might start approaching these shared stories as a form of medicine. This is what NYtimes has to say-

While more research still needs to be done, the possibilities for integrating storytelling into clinical practice are numerous. In one possible situation, which is not all that dissimilar from popular dating sites, doctors and patients would be able to access Web sites that would match patients to videos of similar patients recounting their own experiences with the same disease.

What do you think? Do you think story telling could be used as a form of medicine? Is this a valuable use of health care resources?

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