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Reframe Your Story: Images that Connect

Tuesday, September 04, 2018
By Geri Baumblatt, Dr. Michael Bennick & Steven Koppel

By Geri Baumblatt, Dr. Michael Bennick & Steven Koppel
It’s often challenging for people to express the often complex and confusing experiences of illness, surgery, recovery, or caregiving. And not all of us have a place we can turn to like a piano or canvas to express ourselves. Even asking people to draw a simple image can be daunting.

Consider “Caroline.” She has bipolar disorder and struggles to help her son and family understand how she feels during a manic cycle. She was part of an clinician-moderated outpatient group at McLean Hospital that was sharing personal experiences with other patients.
In these groups, people usually go around the room and talk about their experiences or how something feels. Unfortunately, people who have been in many groups often say “I’m tired of participating in the same groups over and over again. I’ve heard it all before.”
Changing the Conversation
One way to change the conversation and make it more engaging is to have people create and share expressive images. People can start with a stock photo or take their own photo.
Caroline noticed these crumpled phone cords in the corner of a room at the hospital. She took a picture because they felt like a good representation of her experience during a manic cycle, which she thinks of as “neurons crashing around in her mind.”

Next, she used an app that made it easy to transform that photo into an expression of an experience, thought, or feeling. As you can see below, she transformed the photo from everyday wires on a floor to an expressive image of her experience of mania.

Caroline shared the image with the group and her family. It helped her show and express how she felt. And it allowed her to describe and speak to the image in a very personal, novel, and meaningful way.
This image also gave the group insight and created a new dynamic and dialogue. They could relate to it and connect with her. People start by focusing on the image, and the conversation and interaction that follows is: support, validation, and connection. As a clinician using this approach with patients explained:

“It’s instrumental in helping deliver more effective treatment.
When patients can describe what they experience, treatment becomes much better.”
It’s as though creating the image is a window into what they’re experiencing. And it helps them to describe and articulate what previously seemed indescribable.
These images can be printed, turned into slideshows, or used to create a digital recovery plan the patient can take home. The app, called MyMoments, is licensed to healthcare organizations along with training and support from a nonprofit organization called the EDI Institute. It’s then available to patients, clinicians, and others for ongoing use.
Expression for the Caregivers
The value of this extends beyond patients to help forge caregiver connections and  wellness. For example, at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven, a leadership group of nurses, physicians, administrators gathered. They were given the opportunity to use images to help express “I do what I do because....”  In this case, they all used this same image as a common starting point:

One participant who considered himself “uncreative and non-artistic” created the new image below. He described how the worlds of the patients they care for are turned upside down by cancer, and that’s what defines their roles as caregivers: to BE THERE for patients.”

Others in this small group of colleagues saw and created entirely different storylines from the same image. One spoke of gratitude, another of self care -- but all reconnected with purpose and in the process of self rediscovery recognized all that they shared in common. This proved to be a deep and meaningful discussion that brought all the members of the team closer than they were when they entered the room.
To get a better sense for the thought process and impact of expressing through images, view this brief slideshow:

This is one way an easy-to-use resource helps people express their stories, fears, and perspectives on where they are so they can communicate and share it with their clinicians, peers, and families.
How else do you help your patients and caregivers get out of the standard ruts to express themselves so they can engage in new and meaningful conversations?


Geri Lynn Baumblatt MA, For the last 20 years, Geri has worked to help people understand health conditions and procedures, orient them to their diagnoses, make more informed decisions about their care, and partner with their care teams.  She oversaw the creation of the Emmi program library, and she regularly speaks and serves on patient engagement, patient experience, health literacy, shared decision making, health design, family caregiving, and heath communication panels for organizations like AHRQ, the Brookings Institute, Stanford Medicine X, and the Center for Plain Language. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Patient Experience, is on the board of the Society for Participatory Medicine, and published a chapter in Transformative Healthcare Practice through Patient Engagement (IGI Global). She currently consults on patient engagement, family caregiving, and health communication. Follow her on Twitter @GeriLynn

Steven Koppel spent 20 years as a Senior Partner and business consultant with Accenture. In 2002, he left to volunteer with non-profit organizations to maximize their social impact. Inspired when his interest in photography as an artistic medium helped him cope with family medical challenges, he founded the EDI Institute as a nonprofit in 2013. It’s dedicated to pioneering a new form of therapeutic expression called Expressive Digital Imagery®.

Dr. Michael Bennick
is the Medical Director of the Patient Experience and Chairman of the Patient Experience Council for Yale-New Haven Health System. He is an Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and a Fellow of Trumbull College at Yale University. He began his professional life as a sociologist interested in how individuals find meaning within the communities they reside. This led him on a journey which brought him to internal medicine. The patient has been the focus of his attention for more than 3 decades. 

Tags: patient engagement, communication, technology, engagement, experience
Mark VanderKlipp
Pictures are worth a thousand words. Thanks for introducing us to this novel approach to sharing patient insights.
9/5/2018 1:34:47 PM