Story power: the secret weapon

J Patient Saf. 2010 Mar;6(1):5-14. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0b013e3181d23231.


Objective: The objective is to introduce story power as an untapped vehicle to inform, equip, and challenge leaders to drive change that can save lives, save money, and build value in communities through adoption of the National Quality Forum Safe Practices.

Method: A review of storytelling best practices from industry complemented findings from a direct survey of hospital safety leaders who presented a video story to hospital personnel. The video captured the story of death of a child from failed communication and teamwork.

Results: Interviews of safety leaders at 675 hospitals who had presented the video to hospital staff revealed that more than 90% of the respondents strongly recommended use of the video by other organizations as a tool to reduce harm to patients. Three hundred sixty-three organizations showed it to more than 100 viewers. Two hundred seventy-six institutions reported that between 50 and 100 people viewed the video at each institution. Of the 675 organizations that presented the video, 84.9% believe that it either saved lives or positively affected patients. Respondents from 205 hospitals believed that more than 50 patients had been positively impacted by changes in care inspired by viewing the video.

Conclusions: Health care leaders have much to learn from storytelling practices from other industries, such as film and business, that they can apply to driving patient safety and improving the care they deliver. However, they must face the fear of reputational and financial risk that transparency through storytelling will create when they honestly address shortfalls that cause harm to the patients they serve. The National Quality Forum Safe Practices provide a roadmap for leaders. However, they must become personally engaged in the action. They can do so by activating their teams using stories as weapons against the fears that pose barriers to improvement of preventable harm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anecdotes as Topic*
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Health Personnel
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Errors
  • Safety Management* / standards
  • Video Recording