Tell Me a Story


Use storytelling as a means to connect to your patients.

By Ingrid Sparrow, PT, CMPT

In her Inc.com column, Betsy Mikel explains why it is we health care providers love our facts. We worked hard to learn them, and we paid good money for those letters after our names. Which may be one of the reasons it is hard for us to accept the studies that show facts alone are not strong motivators for behavior change. So what does change behavior? Stories. Thus we are in the era of the power of storytelling—to improve patient compliance, market your business, improve your work experience, etc.

As caregivers, our storytelling can be guided by good science. An excellent science-based resource is the work of Kendall Haven, story consultant and pioneer in the neural and cognitive science of story.1 His first book, Story Proof, relies on extensive research that shows our brains are hardwired to “story structure,” and his second book, Story Smart, focuses on how to construct effective and powerful stories.2

Also worth a look is the book Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron,3 on how to craft a good story.


In the “a picture is worth a thousand words” category, you will find wonderful short stories told when you Google “physical therapy memes.” Be prepared to laugh! Examples of the word play found are “Do these pants make my lumbo-pelvic hip complex look anteriorly rotated?” and “Knock knock. Who’s there? HIPAA. HIPAA who? HIPAA I can’t tell you.” It deserves a look as it is the picture that conveys the humor of the story.

And then there are apps! Adobe Spark4,5,6 brings Spark Post, Spark Page, and Spark Video into one free app. Selected as Apple’s App Store Editors’ Choice #1 Best New App, it allows you to easily combine graphics, photos, text, and video into the story of your choosing. Adobe Spark is currently for use on mobile iOs devices and can also be used on any desktop browser.
With all of these resources, what seems to be missing is the “how” of crafting a good story for our patients. There are storytelling projects in the works at the institutional level (hospitals and universities). And there are many websites urging caregivers to use storytelling. But what is lacking are storytelling workshops specifically targeted to health care providers. Physical therapists are gregarious by nature, and with just a little work and polish, we could be quite the raconteurs of the health care world! And with last year’s health care spending of $3.2 trillion, I think we could be a powerful resource for change.

(Now, am I the only physical therapist concerned that if you Google “Humor and Physical Therapy” the first hit is an NPR story on a plan to fix a misunderstanding with Medicare? Or if you Google “Adobe Spark Physical Therapy” you only get one hit dedicated to physical therapy? We need to get our stories flowing.)


1. www.convinceandconvert.com/podcasts/episodes/the-brain-science-behind-business-storytelling. Accessed April 2017.

2. www.kendallhaven.com/works.htm. Accessed April 2017.

3. writetodone.com/usebrain-science-to-hook-readers-and-reel-them-in. Accessed April 2017.

4. https://spark.adobe.com. Accessed April 2017.

5. www.digitaltrends.com/photography/adobe-launches-spark-design-apps. Accessed April 2017.

6. https://hcsmmonitor.com/2017/02/13/monday-morning-cool-tool-adobe-spark. Accessed April 2017.


Ingrid Sparrow, PT, CMPT, is the owner of Sound Physical Therapy in Seattle, Washington. She can be reached at Ingridsparrow@soundpt.com.