The Lessons This "Heartbreaker" Can Bring to Better Framing AI in Healthcare

In the world of storytelling, and AI, framing is an essential tool that can transform a narrative from ordinary to extraordinary. It’s the art of setting the stage, providing context, and guiding the audience’s perspective. A remarkable example of the power of framing can be found in the classic movie “Brian’s Song.” In this film, screenwriter Bill Blinn leveraged the principle of framing to save the day and elevate the movie’s impact.

Frames are the way people or issues are presented to an audience. They include aspects such as the content’s focus, order of information, as well as the different sources used. This principle of framing is not limited to the world of cinema; it has profound implications in the realm of AI and healthcare, where narrative communication and strategic framing run in alignment for greater support and adoptive success.

“Brian’s Song”—how narrative communication made ALL the difference

“Brian’s Song,” released in 1971, is a heart-wrenching drama based on the true story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and NFL Hall-of-Fame running back Gale Sayers, two professional American football players who played for the Chicago Bears. The movie’s emotional depth and impact on audiences can be attributed, in large part, to the skillful use of framing.

It’s a cinematic experience that’s touted as one of the best sports movies of all time. Its release came at a time when racial division in pro sports remained at a high level. largely existed. Many of the biggest, strongest, and toughest men have cried while watching it. In fact, if you haven’t watched it, do yourself one of the biggest favors—watch it below. It’s even better when you watch it with others, and definitely have some tissues handy.

Now let’s talk about the story of the making of this made-for-TV movie. It begins with Leonard Goldberg, a producer, and his encounter with a magazine article titled “I am Third,” written by Gale Sayers. He bought the book, read it, an it touched Goldberg deeply. The emotional power of the story inspired him to get it made as a movie of the week for ABC television.

Bill Blinn, the screenwriter, was tasked with adapting this emotionally charged story into a screenplay. Despite a great script and outstanding “dailies,” the rough cut of the movie didn’t work as expected. Something was missing, and the studio team was flat out puzzled. What was wrong? 

It was at this critical juncture that Blinn told the studio that he thought he knew what the problem was—and he needed just two days to fix it.

Stymied, Goldberg and the studio team happily gave Blinn the 48 hours. And during those two short days, he created an easy, yet powerful solution.

Blinn added narration at the beginning and end of the movie. The narration, voiced by noted actor Jack Warden, framed the entire film. It provided context, emotional depth, and a perspective that resonated with the audience. 

The narration opened with the words, “This is a story about two men. They came from two different parts of the country, and competed for the same job. One was white and the other was black. Our story is how they came to know each other, fight each other, and help each other,” setting the stage for the central theme of friendship transcending racial differences. At the end of the film, the narration highlighted the enduring legacy of Brian Piccolo, emphasizing not how he died, but how he lived.

Blinn’s solution didn’t take much time, but it reframed the entire narrative; making it not just a story of tragedy but a celebration of life, friendship, and resilience. It should be noted that in his fix not one single frame of the entire film was altered. The narration made all the difference, and gave the world a film that no one who’s ever watched it, has forgotten how it made them feel.

Framing in AI and Healthcare

The concept of framing holds a critical place in the world of AI and healthcare. As AI technologies continue to advance, they are being integrated into healthcare systems to enhance diagnostics, treatment, patient experience, and clinical care. However, the successful use of AI in healthcare often depends on how the technology is communicated to the individual user or receipient. 

Explaining for Understanding

One of the primary challenges in deploying AI in healthcare is the need to explain its decisions and recommendations to both healthcare professionals and patients. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of medical data and provide insights that can aid in personalized communication, monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment. However, these recommendations are only as good as the understanding and value of those receiving them.

Imagine an AI system that can analyze medical images and detect early signs of a disease. While the technology has an amazing ability to speedily make accurate assessments, it is crucial to frame the AI’s role as a supportive tool for healthcare professionals rather than a replacement. Clear examples and supportive communication are necessary to convey this message effectively. 


5 Lessons from “Brian’s Song” for AI in Healthcare

The story of “Brian’s Song” serves as a poignant reminder of the power of framing and narration in storytelling. Similarly, in the realm of AI and healthcare, effective framing and narration are essential for the successful integration of AI technologies. Here are some key takeaways:

1. Start with Emotion and Context

Just as Leonard Goldberg was deeply moved by the emotional power of the book, AI implementations in healthcare should seek to find and convey emotional context. What problem is the technology trying to solve? What impact will it have on patients’ lives? Starting with these questions can be an effective way to strengthen framing and eventual land with stakeholders.  

The famous writer and self-help guru Dale Carnegie once said, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion…” Emotionally compelling stories resonate with people and can help provide a strong foundation for the technology’s implementation. 

Suppose a healthcare organization is implementing an AI-powered system to improve the early detection of chronic diseases. They start by studying real patient cases, understanding the emotional impact of late diagnoses on patients and their families. This emotional context drives the development of the AI system, which is framed as a lifesaving tool.

2. Frame AI as an Assistant, Not a Replacement

In “Brian’s Song,” Bill Blinn’s narration reframed the tragedy as a celebration of life and friendship. Similarly, AI should be framed as a supportive tool that enhances the capabilities of healthcare professionals rather than replacing them. This framing helps build trust and acceptance, while also integrating the technology in way that promotes best results and healthy perspective. One company that appears to be doing an excellent job of this is Nuance with their DAX solution.

3. Use Narration to Provide Context

Just as the narration in the film provided context and emotional depth, AI in healthcare should be accompanied by clear and connected narration. Explain to patients how AI works, its limitations, and its role in improving patient care. Show clear examples with well-placed storytelling through narrative communication that carries meaning and matters to those involved. Here, the right type of strategic narration can bridge the gap between complex technology and human understanding.  

4. Highlight the Human Element

“Brian’s Song” emphasized the human stories behind the tragedy. In AI and healthcare, it’s essential to highlight the human element—the healthcare professionals, patients, and their experiences. AI should be framed as a tool that empowers healthcare providers to deliver more personalized and efficient care. One of the biggest concerns around AI is loss of human control, and that should be addressed to drive trust, convenience, and security.

Think of a home healthcare agency that deploys AI-driven monitoring devices to assist in caring for elderly patients. In their marketing and communication materials, they can highlight the stories of caregivers who are now able to provide better care, due in part to AI. They then showcase the improved quality of life for patients who can stay in the comfort of their homes with the help of technology and dedicated caregivers. 

5. Address Concerns and Misconceptions

Just as the film’s framing addressed concerns and misconceptions about Brian Piccolo’s story, framing in AI healthcare should acknowledge and address concerns about data privacy, job displacement, and patient autonomy. Open and transparent narration can alleviate fears, gain greater trust and understanding, as well as foster acceptance. Brian’s song didn’t avoid, but took on the issue of racism and its impact on those involved. The power of narrative communication, done right, is the ability to not hide from obvious challenges and related concerns around them. Rather it permits human feelings and issue perception to move into a healthier and more productive space.  


AI in healthcare necessitates effective storytelling for several compelling reasons. Firstly, it enhances understanding by translating intricate AI concepts into relatable narratives, enabling stakeholders to grasp AI’s potential in healthcare. Secondly, it builds trust among patients and healthcare providers, crucial for the acceptance of AI-driven diagnoses and treatments. Moreover, storytelling overcomes resistance to change by dispelling misconceptions and positioning AI as a supportive tool rather than a replacement. It also humanizes technology, evoking empathy and fostering an emotional connection with AI. Lastly, storytelling motivates innovation by inspiring professionals and organizations to explore new AI applications in healthcare, thereby driving continuous improvement. 

“Brian’s Song” would likely not have impacted the hearts, minds, and memories of countless millions of watchers over the years, had it not been for the right framing. We have the studio experts to thank for recognizing—and appreciating—the power of framing and the narrative communication that helps to do so. Whether it’s an individual, employee, community, or nation, we must remember that human beings respect and respond to framing that helps them to feel less stressed, more in control, and elicit greater trust.

We need to remember this point. For as smart, talented, and intuitive as we all are in the world of AI, it takes humans and human-to-human interaction to drive our health system. Patients as well as employees who interact with them—in person as well as remotely. While AI continues to improve and transform, we need to remember the importance of trust, confidence, human life, and sustaining betterment through them in our framing and narrative communication.  

ABOUTDr. Steve Ambrose helps healthcare and health IT clients by improving target market awareness through senior-level content creation and strategy. His written, video, and audio content assets have been recommended by C-suite leaders and help companies in their sales, marketing, and product efforts.

Learn more how he helps clients here.

Reach him at: steveambroseUCLA[at]

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