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Storytelling and Evidence

So your study is nearing completion. You’re fairly confident it will be accepted in a journal with a high impact score. And being an enthusiast for evidence synthesis, you recognise the importance of moving this new knowledge beyond academia and into the mainstream.

But how? One approach is to consider your research as a story. It could be a story around a patient or a narrative based on your experience as a researcher. It could be a story about the future and how your research might influence further developments. Or it could be based on a story from the past and how your breakthrough could have changed the outcome for a patient or a famous historical figure.

Now this might seem to border on heresy. After all the basis of evidence synthesis is that while individual studies may make dramatic  headlines they cannot form the basis of decision- making until they are placed in context of what is already known.

But storytelling in this context is nothing more than a hook upon which to hang your research. It’s actually an incredibly effective way of attracting interest- from hardened hacks to the information- hungry public.

I am co-organiser of DotMD, an annual conference of medical curiosity. We’ve just brought the event to NUI Galway, with some success. For the curious check out www.dotmd.ie.

A big part of what we do is facilitate reflection and reinvigoration for health professionals, through music, art and storytelling. The power of narrative in this setting has been huge.

One of this year’s speakers, Dr Bryan Vartabedian, Director of Community Medicine and a gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, spoke about how technology has become the new interface between health professional and patient. But have we gone too far in how we value machines and algorithms, he asked?

Building a framework for the correction of our irrational exuberance for technology, he argued persuasively for a need to recalibrate by putting the human agenda first. And issuing a provocative call to action, he said “the story of twenty-first century medicine will be a redrawing of the boundaries between man and its artificial surrogates.”

Evidence Synthesis Ireland is committed to developing a wide cohort of people with evidence synthesis skills. The ultimate aim is to ensure   that when patients are being offered a particular medical treatment in the future, it will reflect the safest, most comprehensive and up to date information available.

To do this, we need researchers and others to get their story “out there”. Sitting alongside the science and the statistics is a good yarn waiting to be told. Identify it and we will gladly help you develop your research story.

Dr Muiris Houston
Medical Journalist and Health Analyst, The Irish Times
Adjunct Professor Narrative Medicine TCD
Writer in Residence, ESI, NUIG.