Storytelling – an old solution to a new problem


I was once working with a private hospital that took great pride in the care they administered to their patients. Like all hospitals today, many of their systems and processes were being streamlined according to the mountains of data they were able to gather. Better data on illness patterns allows them predict better and allows them to apply resources better across all their wards, and therefore minimize costs and increase profits. And profit is an important value in private health.

But when it came to their greatest value – care, the data taught them nothing. Cold and inhuman, it just taught them how to do more, faster, cheaper. The hospital leadership had to find a way to protect their reputation for care while the data was driving the efficiencies.

They knew the answer wasn’t in data; it was in a story. They mined the organization for the right story.  And this is the one they came up with.

One day an elderly patient was being admitted for a three-day procedure. Her daughter accompanied her. When the admission procedure was complete the nurse, Veronica, told the daughter it was time to leave. But before she did, she turned to her mother and slipped her three bottles of Actimel as she kissed her goodbye. “Here you go Mammy, I know you like your Actimel in the morning. I’ll see you Thursday.”

Unfortunately, on Thursday there was a slight complication with the procedure and Veronica heard that the consultant had ordered the lady to spend another two nights in the hospital. The next morning, as Veronica drove to work, she stopped off and bought two bottles of Actimel. Before she went off on her rounds, she delivered the bottles to the grateful lady and called the daughter to reassure her that Mammy had her treats.

This simple story captures the level of care expected of all staff in that hospital. Be alert, take initiative, treat everyone as if they were someone’s mother and most of all, be kind.

Veronica’s picture is now placed in prominent positions throughout the hospital. When people are faced with an issue of care, they just ask: “What would Veronica do?”

All the data in the world couldn’t answer that.

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