Although storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication we have, recently, it has had a sort of revival. From national projects like The Moth’s “StorySLAMs,” and NPR’s StoryCorps to local story gathering projects in Colorado and other states, it seems like stories are everywhere these days. And for good reason. Storytelling is one of the most universal ways we communicate as humans—in nearly every culture and language around the globe. Venerable contemporary storyteller, Mike Birbiglia, puts it best:
“There’s something cathartic about storytelling for both the storyteller and the audience. It leads to a certain amount of openness. You watch someone and say, ‘I can relate to that,’ or gain courage to express some specific thing about your own life you’d normally be uncomfortable sharing. It’s very literal and raw. When storytelling is done right, it makes the audience feel a little less alone.”
This sentiment has long been recognized as an intuitive truth. We’ve all felt it. But a growing body of science is demonstrating that storytelling is not just cathartic, but a necessary component of effective leadership, problem-solving, and innovation. Indeed, according to Denise Withers, a story strategist, it seems that we, as humans, have “an innate ability to analyze, learn from, and remember information and experiences as stories.”
Storytelling has been an integral part of my work over the past three years as I gathered and curated stories about health through Colorado HealthStory. The HealthStory team—including staff from CCMU, ClinicNET, and the Colorado Rural Health Center—traveled the state collecting stories of health from everyday Coloradans. We’ve now collected 230 incredible stories and have taken a moment to reflect on all we've heard.
All told, our team has traveled over 3,000 miles to 27 counties in all corners of the state. We heard very different stories from very different people living in very different places, but began to realize that they actually were describing the same kinds of issues—from the importance of patient-provider relationships to how they experienced health disparities. Ultimately, we identified ten recurring themes that rose to the top--ten issues that are on the hearts and minds of Coloradans:
- Health care coverage and access
- Navigating the health care system
- Educational and preventive health measures
- Health and wellness
- Complex health conditions
- Behavioral health
- Oral health
- Patient-provider relationships
- Being an engaged patient
- Health disparities
This top ten list is a reflection of Colorado's own health story, and we’re proud to be able to help tell it. As we continue to work to improve Colorado’s health care system, one of the most complex social problems we face, storytelling can help us gain understanding and make better decisions. The next several years present an historic opportunity to make our health care system more inclusive; we can increase coverage and access to care while improving care delivery and making health care more humane, affordable, and of greater value. To fully realize these opportunities, we encourage you to keep telling stories, listen deeply to your neighbors’ and constituents’ stories, and be a part of the ongoing story of Colorado’s health.