The power of storytelling in health technology appraisals: writing beyond scientific data

Storytelling is a powerful communication tool to support comprehension in diverse scenarios, including for market access purposes. Our brain has evolved to follow stories more easily than random information, as they reflect the reality we see around us more closely. Storytelling has been successfully employed in businesses for different communication purposes, from conveying a company’s values internally to engaging with its clients and stakeholders. NASA relies on storytelling to share its values and knowledge and make the future generation of space explorers great communicators. It isn’t any different when writing health technology appraisals (HTAs), where compellingly conveying the value of a medicine, device or diagnostic can, ultimately, change the story of patients’ lives.

Reading is an exercise of prediction and the use of storytelling goes beyond telling simple stories. The unconscious act of guessing what comes next propels reading along and thus enables comprehension. The use of storytelling in effective writing includes defining a clear message and keeping sentences and paragraphs to the point, following a clear narrative and flow. This means that the main message being communicated works as a thread sewing ideas together, giving the reader ease to concentrate on what is being said. I don’t mean to write a fairy tale about a product, but rather to use storytelling to convey from the data what really matters to patients and caregivers who will, ultimately, benefit from it.

Here are a couple of examples of how storytelling can boost writing in HTA submissions:

You write for the reader, not for yourself. You’ve probably heard this before but what does it mean in Market Access? Many reimbursement bodies include in their HTA forms specific sections or questions for companies to translate findings from clinical studies into what they would represent in real life. In these sections, it’s important to give readers the ‘so what?’ about the trial endpoints. What is that hazard ratio actually saying, how would it affect patients in local clinical practice? It’s important to clearly and transparently say how the product being assessed is expected to change clinical practice based on hard trial data.

Keywords are, as the word says, key, so don’t spare them. Using the pronoun ‘it’ to refer to a keyword, such as the particular treatment or disease condition addressed, may hinder comprehension. Readers need some degree of repetition to fully internalise the important lexicon used in a submission. Also, this approach avoids the need for readers to backtrack to make sure they understand what that ‘it’ refers to.

Give readers clear actors and actions, i.e. subjects and verbs in sentences written in the active voice, whenever possible. You’ve probably come across a sentence that made you re-read it a couple of times to grasp what the author wants to say. That’s probably because you couldn’t clearly understand ‘who was doing what’ in the sentence. Identifying clear actors doing an action makes more sense given what we expect to read. The excessive use of passive voice is particularly common in scientific writing, making it widely recognised as boring  The challenge of writing HTAs lies in converting generally monotonous literature into compelling documents that will concisely and transparently explain why patients should have access to the product being assessed.

Set clear expectations for the paragraph in its first sentence and skip the backstory. A common mistake many writers make is to start a paragraph with background information. Readers wouldn’t generally bother to learn about historical information until they actually learn ‘why’ they should continue reading it. In others, the first sentence of a paragraph sets its scope, summarising the message being conveyed, which is enriched by the following sentences. So, don’t assume that readers will be interested in reading your rationale for doing something before they learn what that paragraph is going to tell them.

At MAP BioPharma, our goal is to accelerate patient access to the medicines, devices and diagnostics they need. For that, we combine a wide range of expertise to deliver the best results to our clients, which undoubtedly goes through scientific but compelling writing to achieve our goals. If you need assistance with market access activities, you’ve come to the right place. Find out more about our range of services here and get in touch today.


Priscila Mazzola

Clinical Writer

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