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Storytelling can enhance professional training

May 15, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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If telling a story can bring a complex medical concept to life for a patient, can it achieve the same for a provider?

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine believe that just might be the case, having tested a patient anecdote in an effort to train emergency physicians on the risks of prescribing dependence-inducing opioids. They found that doctors who heard an anecdote about a man complaining of back pain were better able to recall details of prescribing guidelines after an hour than were doctors who simply received a straight summary of the guidelines.

The story of affable, middle-aged “Frank” resulted in his doctor prescribing low-dose opioids after not being able to access data in the state's prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), only to learn later that the patient had been bouncing from emergency room to emergency room to feed a dependence on pain medication.

“From previous research, we know that narratives in medicine serve as a powerful tool for translating and communicating complex ideas to patients, so we wanted to know if this same approach could help doctors better recall and relate crucial care-related protocols when it comes to prescription opioids,” senior study author Zachary Meisel, MD, MPH, said in a news release. Meisel is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Center for Emergency Care Policy Research.

Meisel and colleagues found that when physicians responded to questions on what they recalled about the guidelines, the responses contained inaccurate information 54% of the time in the group that received the guidelines summary, but only 21% of the time in the group that heard the patient narrative.

What remains to be determined is whether those professionals who hear the narrative become more likely later to adhere to the guidelines that were communicated. A study exploring this has been launched.

Do you find that using anecdotes assists in the training of addiction professionals on important topics, improving their recall?


Gary Enos


Gary Enos

Gary A. Enos has been the editor of Addiction Professional since its inception. He also...

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