Eli MacLaren

Written by Eli MacLaren @elithechef eli@bif.is

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What happens when you bring together 30+ doctors, nurses, patient advocates, researchers, professors, artists, performers, entrepreneurs, hospital administrators, consultants, and more who believe the power of story can improve care, healing, and health outcomes?

Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (or for those who know BIF, #RCUS).

Our mission over two days — February 5th and 6th  was to bring these thought leaders together to help define and co-create a narrative “playbook” that will demonstrate the value of narrative methods in the context of healthcare, codify best practices, and engage people in its adoption & implementation. As an Experience Designer, it was important to me to provide the right mix of inspiration, collaboration, and productivity that would allow for people to design their emerging experiences (both online with the #hcnarrative hashtag and offline during the workshop). That’s when beautiful things happen.

Here are some of the big questions we tackled and started to unpack. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to synthesize the ideas, insights, and content that came out of the participatory design studio in order to publicly share the Narrative Healthcare Playbook in March.


How do we define “narrative” (and is that even the right term)?

In planning this event, we expected that defining “narrative” would be an easy task. But the power of nuance and language brought in some messiness to the process  doesn’t it always? We did land on some common elements of the definition, such as the continual and iterative process it takes to build and form, the sense- and meaning-making it provides, and different roles it creates space for. But it also highlighted some differences of opinion (Is it really about empathy for understanding? Or improving care?) including using the term, “narrative”.

What is a narrative “playbook”?

We use the metaphor of a playbook to explain how we envision people using the output. In football, a playbook is a notebook with techniques and strategies relating to game plays. Different situations require different strategies, which take the context (the team formation, skills of the players, how far the goal line is, etc.) into account. This is how we want the playbook to be structured and used  we are building it to provide strategic guidance about how different users can use narrative methods during specific scenarios.

Who are the users and what value does it provide?

As for the users of the playbook, we had originally named three user groups  patients, providers, caregivers, and the fourth group of general “others” (hospital admins/policymakers/payors/etc.). We included the last bucket to see if there were, in fact, other potential users for which narrative could have value. To further develop the user groups and the use case scenarios in which they could use narrative methods, we assigned teams to each group. Starting with a brainstorm about their general needs, teams developed common scenarios (As a patient, “I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition”), the challenges within the scenario (“I don’t know how to tell my family”, “I want a second opinion”), and the potential impact the playbook could have (“Linking experience/emotions to language, fostering hope, creating connection”).

What are the barriers to adoption?

We know there are a lot of barriers  emotional, cognitive, cultural, ethical, and systemic  that stand in the way of exploring, adopting, and implementing narrative methods. By writing them all down, it felt overwhelming but also a challenge that we, as a collective group, can undertake.

While we have much work ahead of us  synthesizing scenarios, codifying methods, developing language and tone, and building the deliverable itself  we hope to continue to bring people into the process to co-create the narrative of the power of narrative in healthcare. Check back in to learn about our process and opportunities to participate!