According to the Office of the Surgeon General, only about 12 percent of the U.S. population has suitable health literacy skills. Health literacy is the repertoire of knowledge we fall back on to comprehend medication instructions, understand our risks for certain diseases, and make decisions regarding our own well-being. Wading through a convoluted medical system like the United States is difficult even for those fortunate enough to have access to solid educational materials.
Conversations with health care providers and the instructional pamphlets they may hand out are often laden with jargon. Understandably, the medical lexicon is complex and inaccessible to many people. Also, understandably, patients get frustrated when they can’t comprehend what’s going on with their bodies because the meaning is being obfuscated by medical phraseology.
Enter graphic medicine: a visual representation that allows us to present patient information in a more consumable manner. I believe that graphic medicine may be the key to augmenting patient health literacy. There are a multiplicity of ways that graphic medicine may be implemented in hospitals, private practices, skilled nursing facilities, and rehabilitative care centers to improve patient care and ensure that patients understand their diagnoses, care plans, and medication instructions. Graphic medicine also has the potential to assist us in combating chronic diseases by providing us with an unambiguous means by which to educate patients on lifestyle choices and nutrition.
More specifically, I believe graphic medicine can be used to aid physicians in nutrition counseling. I think visual medicine can be particularly powerful as an educational tool for pediatric providers. As seen in the image above, graphic medicine can be utilized to introduce children to nuanced concepts in nutrition, like the idea that no foods are bad or good. Nutritionists often condemn this type of dichotomous thinking, as it can lead to cycles of binging and purging and other unhealthy eating behaviors. Despite this, we often use value-imbued words to discuss food options or encourage our children to eat certain foods rather than others. Here, we see friendly-appearing donut and lettuce characters that teach a short, simple lesson using graphic medicine techniques. With visual aids, the crux of the nutrition lesson is obvious, with very little text required. Thus, graphic medicine can teach children and their parents’ valuable lessons about nutrition and healthy food behaviors.
Ultimately, I believe the potential of graphic medicine is limitless. While I’m passionate about graphic medicine as a means to help instruct patients about nutrition, it can be applied to any realm of medicine to help better elucidate complex ideas.
Caroline Berberian is a medical assistant and premedical student.