The power of storytelling

A colleague shared this excellent blog with us recently.  It is by Shaun Maher, Principal Educator in the Quality Improvement Team at NHS Education for Scotland and is on the subject of the power of storytelling for improvement –

Shaun describes how our use of data in improvement is important and qualitative data can also highlight improvement opportunities; however “when we get serious about stories we can supercharge our improvement work!”


We thought this was a timely reminder of the importance of storytelling for improvement and there are a few more thoughts and resources below which we hope you will find helpful.

Whenever we talk with teams or individuals about their ideas for improvement, they will often begin with a story of a patient or a specific experience that they wish to change.  But as we spend more time getting into the details and trying to motivate others to change, it can be easy to forget the stories that inspired us to start, and to focus only on data or the details of our processes and systems.

A simple but effective story can help us to connect to our systems and processes in a more personal way, as well as helping to engage others in our cause and stay focussed on ‘why’ we want to improve.

Many Trust Boards, including our own, have learned the power of sharing the stories of a patient or member of staff and how this can quickly and effectively bring (sometimes abstract) concepts to life and help to focus discussions on quality improvement.

Telling the story of a patient’s experience can clearly illustrate the need for improvements, but will also be essential for learning.  The right story can have the power to motivate and help us learn in a way that data alone cannot.


The challenge in healthcare, when time and resources are stretched more than ever, is how we can maximise the power of storytelling to engage people with quality improvement work on a day-to-day basis.

One way is to embrace the ethic of ‘what matters to you’ which some of our teams have at ASPH.  This approach aims to support more meaningful conversations between the people who provide care and the people who receive care, and actively encourages every patients and carer to share their own stories by describing what matters most to them during their time in hospital.

We should acknowledge that encouraging storytelling every day is not easy, but we hope that more people will be inspired to try in pursuit of improving care for patients and staff.

Many of us have learned the discipline of never using anecdotes without having some data to back them up; but maybe we should also learn that one or two personal stories to back up our data will help us to be more successful in engaging people in our improvement efforts.

We hope that you will give Shaun’s blog a read and consider some of the points above.  You can also check out this handy guide from the Health Foundation and the video below from our friends at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.


Mark – @MarkH_Work

One thought on “The power of storytelling

  1. Shaun’s blog is powerful, the telling of stories adds to the richness of our understanding. I think that is why Schwartz Rounds resonate so well with me.
    Using stories to bring power to improvement changes hadn’t occurred to me but I can see how it may connect people to what we are doing, numbers bore so many people but stories intrigue and fascinate. I’m reading ‘In Shock’ by Dr Rana Awdish where she tells her powerful story of being a patient and recognising how we interact as healthcare professionals to our patients – it is worth a read!
    Allowing people to tell stories is equally important the value of “what matter’s to me” became a reality recently at a hospital appointment where I wasn’t given my chance to ‘tell my story’ and articulate what mattered to me. It left me feeling anxious that the ‘diagnosis’ was wrong and that harm could happen even though what had been said was essentially good news.

    Great blog, lots to reflect on and a new way to consider presenting data!

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