Patient-centered care is one of the primary reasons I love our profession of occupational therapy. Before it became trendy, OT always focused on the person first. OT best practices promoted active listening and open-ended questions, so you learned about your patient beyond their current health challenge.
In my work as an OT, one of my first encounters documenting the patient’s life story was in a dementia unit. For patients unable to share their story, highlights were documented in the health record for providers. Now the VA has implemented a program, My Life, My Story, which embeds a tangible and deliberate approach to fostering client-centered care across VA health systems by documenting patient stories.
Developed at the Madison VA in 2013, the concept is simple. Patients are interviewed by a staff member, results are read back to the patient for edit and approval, and then the patient can elect to include the story in their patient record. The resulting narrative, written in first person, is open to the health care team as an opportunity to learn more about the patient. The life story is concise – about 1,000 words – so that it is practical for providers to review. Veterans are also provided with a copy of the finished story to share with friends or relatives. To date, over 5,000 veteran stories have been written with the help of a wide variety of health providers including OTs.
Currently the program is in 60 VA medical centers across the country and is typically staffed by medical students or volunteers. In the Boston area, non-VA providers have also implemented the concept. The tool helps providers focus on the whole person – not just the condition – and strengthens the therapeutic relationship. There is a wealth of information about the program on the Boston VA website. Resources include Implementation Guides, Videos, news articles, podcasts and reports.
If you are looking for a way to support a deeper understanding of patients either in your health system or in your OT practice, read more about My Life, My Story.