Narrative medicine improves geriatric patient care, study suggests

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A recent study explored the impact of including in-depth information about a patient’s social history and life story, a concept known as narrative medicine, on patient care.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, was conducted by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine. In 2013, The My Life, My Story (MLMS) project was established through the Veteran Health Administration to enhance medical histories by including patients’ personal experiences. Today, medical students at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine (SOM) use the MLMS framework during their required rotation in geriatrics. For this study, researchers sought to discover how effective this framework is in improving geriatric patient care.

To do this, researchers interviewed medical students and faculty on narrative medicine and its impact. Investigators then analyzed the individual interviews and identified themes within them. What they found were overwhelmingly positive reviews of the framework. Students told researchers that they believed narrative medicine improved the quality of their patient care and said it would change the way they would practice medicine. Faculty members said MLMS helped them offer care environments and treatment modalities that were more in line with their patient’s experiences.

“When caring for older adults, providers meet patients later in life and sometimes forget that patients have lived active lives before the health encounter,” said study co-author Megan Young, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Chobanian & Avedisian SOM. “Narrative medicine (specifically My Life, My Story) is a tool to understand patients’ prior experiences and gain insight into the person that is sitting in the hospital bed or in the clinic.”

According to the study’s authors, these results indicate that narrative medicine benefits practitioner’s understanding of geriatric patients and therefore their patient care. MLSM, they believe, should be a part of all health professional training.

“It not only helped me understand my patient better as a person, but it also helped me engage with his family more holistically,” said Madeline Palmer, MD, medical director of Quality and Patient Safety for the Emergency Department at Boston Medical Center. “I believe being able to make those connections with our patients, their families and our team members helps us stay more engaged as physicians and reduces depersonalization and burn out.”