Narrative communication is a form of communication based in using stories to communicate information or opinions. Most people are accustomed to using narrative communication when they recount instances in their own lives to other people. Narratives are often used to recount a story, but they also can be used to argue a given point, convey information or provide valuable context that explains an action or idea. Narratives are often used to influence the opinions of others, both in general interpersonal communication and in advertising. The medical profession has almost always relied on patient narratives to various degrees, though this becomes less necessary as more advanced diagnostic tools and methods are devised.
One of the simplest purposes of narrative communication is recounting past events. Many aspects of personal identity are defined by one's experiences and the social impacts of those experiences. Sharing them with others through narrative communication is a common and important social process by which people learn about the lives and experiences of others. Storytelling can provide entertainment in social situations, and a good storyteller may gain considerable social status because of his interesting life experiences and his ability to communicate them in an interesting narrative form.
Many narratives are told with purposes beyond simply entertaining people or recounting past events. Some narrative communication is used to provide support for a point or to contextualize a certain piece of information. A person who is trying to make an argument against smoking tobacco, for instance, may recount a story of a friend or family member who died of lung cancer. This use of narrative communication may be more effective than simply citing facts and statistics, because it provides an understandable experience. Many television and radio advertisements use narrative communication by telling stories of how their products or services have helped people.
Narrative communication has been an important aspect of medical diagnosis and treatment since some of the earliest days of medicine. When a person becomes injured or ill, he generally uses narrative to explain the events leading up to his condition. Doctors use narratives to explain how patients can act to remain healthy or how they should expect an illness to progress. With modern diagnostic technology and techniques, patient narratives are becoming less necessary. They can still be used to give health professionals a general idea of what is wrong, however, particularly when the patient's symptoms are not highly visible.