The ethical and epistemic roles of narrative in person-centred healthcare

Mary Jean Walker* (Corresponding Author), Wendy A. Rogers, Vikki A. Entwistle

*Corresponding author for this work

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Positive claims about narrative approaches to healthcare suggest they could have many benefits, including supporting person-centred healthcare (PCH). Narrative approaches have also been criticised, however, on both theoretical and practical grounds. In this paper we draw on epistemological work on narrative and knowledge to develop a conception of narrative that responds to these concerns. We make a case for understanding narratives as accounts of events in which the way each event is described as influenced by the ways other events in the narrative are described. This view of narratives recognises that they can contribute knowledge of different kinds of connections between events: not just causal, and not just of patient’s perspectives. Additionally, narratives can add further epistemic value by suggesting potentially useful lines of inquiry. We take narrative approaches to healthcare to include clinicians considering both patients’ informational offerings and their own professional understandings as narratives. On this understanding, our account is able to overcome the major theoretical and practical criticisms that have been levelled against the use of narrative approaches in healthcare, and can help to explain why and how narrative approaches are consistent with PCH.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-354
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal for Person Centered Healthcare
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note


The first author was supported by the Australian Research Council (CE140100012). The third author was part supported by the Wellcome Trust (209811). Our thanks to participants at the European Society for Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care 32nd annual conference for comments and questions on an earlier version of some of the paper


  • biomedical model
  • causality
  • communication
  • diagnosis
  • empathy
  • epistemology
  • ethics
  • illness experience
  • interpretation
  • listening skills
  • narrative
  • objectivity
  • person-centered care
  • subjectivity
  • understanding


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