"Narrative Medicine" Helps Docs Listen
Dr. Rita Charon has a mission. She wants to teach physicians how to elicit the story behind each patient's complaint or condition in an effort to provide more comprehensive care. As the executive director of the Columbia University Medical Center's narrative medicine program in New York City, she conducts training sessions that give doctors the skill set they need in order to be good listeners even when they have huge caseloads and too little time for those in their care.
HealthDayreporter Serena Gordon quoted Dr. Charon in a recent article on the site as saying,"What patients complain about the most is, 'My doctor doesn't listen to me,' or 'I feel like I'm alone in my illness.' Narrative medicine is a way for people who take care of sick persons to hear what they say, to understand their concerns, to enter the world of the patients, so as to know what can be done in their care,"
The training program includes reading stories of illness as well as writing stories based on experiences with patients. "What people need before they have true empathy and compassion is to be able to perceive what's going on with another person," Charon told Gordon. "And, when you write it down, you represent it."
Gordon went on to relate a striking example of narrative medicine in action. A mother brought her young son to the doctor for a small cut on his hand that appeared to need nothing more than antibiotic cream and a band-aid. Yet when the doctor used her new communication skills and asked the mother if there was anything she wanted to tell her, the mother responded that the scissors the boy had been using might have been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus from the blood of a member of the household. This in fact turned out to be the case and the child's treatment was altered accordingly.
"Most doctors are working hard and are eager to get better at the listening part," Charon told Gordon, adding that training in narrative medicine will increase the number of doctors "with the skills to make sure that they hear what you're trying to say."