Staff Learn to Use the Patient’s Story to Improve Care

Cobble Hill Health Center (CHHC) is offering a progress program for its healthcare providers aimed at emphasizing human connections and making care more personalized. Known as “Narrative Medicine,” workshops teaching this emerging concept in healthcare are being offered to staff at CHHC by students from Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine masters of science degree program. The goal is to use the patient’s story to improve their care.

“At Cobble Hill Health Center, our goal is always to provide care that is individualized for each resident. Through narrative medicine, our hope is to enable staff be even more effective, compassionate and comprehensive in caring for both our short-term rehab patients and long-term residents,” says Donny Tuchman, administrator at CHHC.

Narrative medicine is an approach in medicine that incorporates patients’ narratives with evidence-based care. The intention is to help care providers treat a patient as a whole person, not simply an illness. According to Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine website “It (narrative medicine) addresses the need of patients and caregivers to voice their experience, to be heard and valued, and it acknowledges the power of narrative to change the way care is given and received.”

“In healthcare, we make assessments and we create care plans. By taking into account the person’s story, while we make our care plans, we believe we can make our delivery of care even more person-centered,” says Louise Dueño, director of Therapeutic Recreation at CHHC, who organized and is participating in the program at CHHC.

During the course of the six-session workshop series, staff at CHHC read selected texts such as poetry or short stories, or look at visual art, from a diverse range of subjects, and then write about it briefly, to develop close reading and representation skills, and shared experiences. The group is currently limited to 10 participants to keep it intimate and effective.

“We are learning to improve our interviewing skills and to ask questions to connect with the person and build relationships,” explains Dueño. “We read together, then talk about the reading. For example, what does it mean to us? We listen to each other and discover that people have different perspectives. We are developing empathetic listening skills and by doing this we can better understand how to connect with our residents,” she added.

This is the second annual narrative medicine workshop series that CHHC has offered for its team. Last year’s group included social workers and recreation therapists. This year, the program has been expanded to include any staff or volunteers who wish to participate. This year’s group also includes two long-term care residents (patients).

And as added benefit, it’s good for staff, says Dueño. “We are learning to listen to each other. We work together day in and day out. We can learn things from our co-workers that we didn’t know about one another.”

“Hopefully, with this we can see the individuality of people,” she noted. “Yes, our patients are sick. And, they are frequently elderly, but they are all individuals. In thinking about how best to care for them, we can listen to their story. Their story matters.”