Thursday, April 17, 2008

Narratives in clinical practice

I just found this brief article in my stack of "to be read" papers as I moved to a new office space -- I had printed it because it provides a really interesting take on the utility of the case report or case narratives in clinical practice.

Citation: Campo R (2006) “Anecdotal Evidence”: Why Narratives Matter to Medical Practice. PLoS Med 3(10): e423

Rafael Campos focuses on the potential usefulness of cases in generating research hypotheses, prompting connections between topics, visualizing new possibilities...

He notes,
The inscrutably enduring power of the anecdote itself is what incites all our most fearsome defenses. So furious are we in our rejection of the merely anecdotal one cannot help but begin to wonder at it. What is it in the ostensibly harmless tale my great-grandfather told about the secret of his longevity being the small glass of bitters mixed with a raw egg he downed before bedtime each night since the age of ten that rallies us to spend billions of dollars in grants from the National Institutes of Health , disbursed every year to scientists seeking their own more explicitly pharmaceutical recipes for living longer? Why does our clinging to superstition and our willingness to be intrigued by mystery provoke such an angry, unrelenting diligence? An anecdote, after all, is just a story.

The irony in our growing intolerance of the anecdote is that storytelling is full of lessons in imagination and invention so beneficial to the creative investigator.

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