It’s my seventh day as the Patient Experience Lab Associate at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) and I’m lucky: I was hired onto a passionate, creative team.
The Patient Experience Lab is a group of imaginative design thinkers. They are avidly examining our healthcare system through the lens of its users. They are seeking opportunities to re-imagine the business models that directly affect patients’ well-being and providers’ care, and the insights that form the fertile ground for transformational changes to take root.
They are also eloquent, engaging, and have good taste in coffee shops.
This is plenty of stuff for a new employee to digest, to feel excited about, and to be inspired by. But for the first six days on the job, I found myself spending all of my waking hours not thinking about business models or health care at all.
I was thinking about stories.
The Utility of Story
What makes a compelling story?
And if, as self-professed “researcher-storyteller” Brené Brown so poetically suggests, “stories are just data with a soul”, then how can we identify the patterns in the stories we hear, tell, and co-create that lead to insights with the potential for impact?
These are the questions that defined my first few days on the job, the unceasing consideration of which left me feeling vaguely guilty for not devoting more time to researching healthcare business models. I was working at the Business Innovation Factory…
But with the limited hindsight of seven days, I’ve realized that the Patient Experience Lab has evidence that my burning questions about stories actually reveal something important about innovation – in business or elsewhere:
Storytelling is an essential tool in the toolbox of anyone who seeks to create sustainable, positive change.
Stories from the Patient Experience Lab
The Patient Experience Lab’s current projects have been both focused on and revealing the power of narrative in healthcare.
On my second day, I took part in a brainstorm to codify insights from a recent Participatory Design Studio, “The Power of Narrative”, into a tangible tool for the users of our healthcare system.
Can story be used to help patients, providers, hospital administrators, caretakers, and other stakeholders to better understand one another? With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the participants in the design studio, the PXL had been tasked to explore that very possibility.
One result of this brainstorm? A lively discussion about the books, from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food, loved and used by our staff.
In seeking to design a narrative playbook that would be both useful and memorable, staff cited all of the reasons the books impacted them: they were accessible, they inspired fond memories of loved ones, they changed their perspectives, they were stained with butter from their last dinner parties.
Listening to this, I realized that stories lurk in the small moments of all of our lives — in the objects, ideas, and memories that contain meaning for us — but have the potential to reveal big things about our values, experiences, and beliefs. The conversation in the PXL was, and is, how to harness that potential in healthcare settings.
Story also touches the research being conducted in the Patient Experience Lab on family well-being. In partnership with Children’s Health, Patient Lab Experience Designers have collected stories from and engaged in conversations with Dallas families, to explore how families define their own well-being and how communities and institutions interact to shape it.
In asking these questions, the Patient Experience Lab is using families’ stories to expand traditional notions of well-being in order to improve care. What role do hope and possibility play in well-being? How can healthcare acknowledge spiritual, social, and emotional needs? These are only some of the questions that have emerged from the stories heard.
So this is why I’ve been thinking about stories:
Story is a key component in the BIF arsenal for generating new insight, that helps us transform our practices and shared systems for the better.
The Work of Telling Stories
The power of a story is a buzz-worthy topic not just in healthcare, but in other industries, too. Researchers are finding that, more so than data, it is an artfully communicated story that successfully conveys value — of a product, a process, or an idea. It is likely for this very reason that BIF is charging me with the task of sharing the work of the Patient Experience Lab.
In a sense, I’ve been hired to be a storyteller. Story obsession vindicated!
In the past seven days, many people at BIF have told me that we believe in “working out loud”. Now I know why, and what this means: the work of the Patient Experience Lab demonstrates that neglecting to share our labs’ stories would be denying ourselves of opportunities to synthesize key insights — especially the ones we didn’t know we had. In the act of sharing my thoughts with you about my first days on the job, I gained insight into the greater purpose of my position; working out loud is transparency, with the knowledge that our communities make our narratives richer.
This gets at another key element of stories: they are collaborative acts of interpreting meaning.
I hope you will co-author the stories of our Patient Experience Lab, their mediums, and the emerging shared visions.