Blog for Patient Experience Library:
A few weeks ago we suggested that the Gosport Inquiry should finally bring to an end the idea that patient stories are simply “anecdote”, carrying less weight than the “hard” evidence of statistical data.
This week, we have dug back into our archive to revisit the issue via a conference presentation by the always excellent Prof. Trish Greehalgh. Using the 2014 Ebola crisis as a case study, Greenhalgh shows how stories can use numbers, and numbers can tell stories.
So the Ebola story can be told from the point of view of an orphaned child, to make the case for better support for survivors of all ages.
It can also be told from the point of view of front-line medics and aid workers, to make the case for more emergency aid.
There is another point of view – the story about development of treatments and vaccines. This version can be rolled out to make the case for more medical research.
These stories can be told by real people – the child, the aid worker, the researcher. If need be, their stories can be reinforced with statistics on numbers of orphans, the scale of the emergency response, the cost of developing vaccines and so on.
Alternatively, the statistics can be presented on their own – as objective fact, coupled with sober social, economic or medical analysis. But even so, the numbers are being used to tell a story.
Coming back to patient experience, the point is that stories and statistics are always being pressed into the service of a particular narrative.
We can test the veracity of both patient stories and statistics. We can look at whether stories and statistics complement or contradict one another. But we should never assume that one form of evidence is always, and inevitably, better than the other.
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