Insights (Essays)

Insights (Essays) November -0001

You Changed My Life

Carlos Rizo and Neil Seeman

Patients crave humanity - dignity and respect - in their interactions with healthcare practitioners. A recent paper in the British Medical Journal by Nick Black and Crispin Jenkinson strongly advocates using patients' views of the humanity and effectiveness of their care to evaluate healthcare interventions and to assess the quality of health services. They conclude: "Now, the patient is central in the hope this will contribute to quality improvement."
It is our provisional hypothesis that small, subtle, low-cost healthcare interventions - a thank-you note; consistent expressions of kindness; discussions about common interests, in other words, connecting - matter greatly to people's health and expectations of care.

For four months we have been reviewing statements from people around the world: short descriptions of what improves their health and happiness. We canvassed the World Wide Web's "micro-diaries" - 140-character entries on Twitter - to discover what reportedly changes people's lives positively, and forever.

We captured a list of entries with natural language variations on the phrase, "changed my life," and thereby resurrected roughly 24,000 testimonials of positive life change.

Why People Share Stories of Life Change

Conversations with our "followers" on Twitter (*) suggest that people find it natural to openly share positive, life-altering events. One of our readers says it is "because we are all mini story-tellers" ('amcunningham'). Story-telling is one of our "social traits, core to our success as a species," says 'cwhogg'. History proves that humans are "particularly successful at our ability [and] desire to transfer knowledge and experience." It also seems we find comfort and meaning in the way these stories are told. "Rites of passage are great narratives - first person [is the] best person to tell healing narratives" says 'ChristineKraft'.

What has Changed our Lives Forever?

After reviewing the Twitter entries to find common words and themes, we found a sample of simple things that many of us take for granted but that have changed people's life experiences positively, and "forever":
  • Spending more time with one's family - reconnecting with family
  • Working from home - reconnecting with family
  • Cooking healthy recipes - connecting with our bodies
  • Meditating - connecting with our spiritual side
  • Individualized exercise plans - connecting with our bodies
  • Using mobile phones and wireless Internet services - connecting with our friends
  • Internet browsing and online purchasing
  • Connecting with others via social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, mySpace)

Listening to Patient Stories

What binds many of the most cited life-altering technologies and healthful activities on Twitter is their simplicity and their usefulness as a means of connecting with others. This inspires two opportunities for reflection.

First, what if healthcare organizations focused strategic plans on initiatives that deliver what people in online communities say they want or what has fundamentally changed their lives for the better? Second, what if providers received incentives to gather stories from patients' online diaries - where they have travelled; books they have read; what poems have inspired them - so an "appointment with the doctor" can turn into more meaningful conversations, more connectedness, that lead to better health outcomes?

Our untraditional approach to obtain an online sample of story-tellers suggests that people want simple, low-cost technologies, individually tailored exercise and diet solutions, home offices, quiet time, and a flexible lifestyle that allows them to spend more time with their children and families. They want to share their stories and, in the act of sharing, make a meaningful connection with themselves, their loved ones, and the world around them. These are the real voices from people at the centre of healthcare.

We invite you to listen.

About the Author(s)

Carlos Rizo is Chief Imagineer, and Neil Seeman is Director and Primary Investigator, of the Health Strategy Innovation Cell at Massey College at the University of Toronto.

(*) The Innovation Cell (as of the time of writing) has 1,126 "followers" on Twitter. Source:


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