Last week I attended a hospital based workshop which focused on how to manage discussions with patients in the setting of an adverse healthcare outcome. 

Whereas an acknowledgment of the problem and an appropriate apology are essential, we were also reminded about the importance of encouraging patients to tell their version of events in a way makes sense to them.

Those of us who have met anyone who has been recently bereaved or who has experienced a physically or emotionally traumatic event will have noticed their compulsion to tell (often repeatedly) of their recollection of the experience. Although these stories don’t always follow a linear narrative and may include digressions and things that seem irrelevant to the listener, it is the actual telling of these stories helps people make sense of their experience. Our listening and response to those stories as health care professionals bear witness to them and plays an important part of the healing process.  It takes time but is always worth the effort.

Any other time pressed doctors who are in any doubt as to the role (and power) of patient stories in healing should listen to this 12 minute witness impact statement by Ed Gavagan, a from TEDMED 2012. 


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