Viewpoint: Patient narratives should be part of medical education

Patient voices should play an integral role in healthcare professionals' education, according to an op-ed in BMJ written by researchers and a nonprofit leader.

The authors wrote patient narratives have not yet been fully integrated into medical education, which may be partly due to healthcare professionals' resistance to change. Yet patient narratives can provide unique insights that traditional medical educators cannot.

The authors identify three ways to better integrate patient narratives into education:

1. Embrace the subjective nature of narratives as a strength, not a weakness. Subjective stories can "inject reality, humor, passion and life" into what can sometimes be an "alienating environment" for patients and providers.

2. Make it easier for patients to share narratives and for educators to access them. Websites can provide open forums for patients to share their stories, and providers can simply ask patients about their experiences during appointments.

3. Remember that narratives are their own form of evidence, even if they are not driven by data. They are "a constructed version of reality, a permanent reminder of an encounter that left a lasting impression," the authors wrote.

The op-ed was contributed by Rebecca Baines, a research associate and PhD candidate at the University of Plymouth in Britain; Dr. Charlotte Denniston, a lecturer in work integrated learning at Melbourne Medical School in Australia; and James Munro, CEO of Care Opinion CIC, a nonprofit that supports online dialogue between providers and patients.