Applying Comics to Patient Care: Proposal for a Development Process

I am confident that comics hold potential as a powerful tool for communication in health care, but how can this idea be translated into clinical practice? How will the art maintain its core value of accessibility and vernacular, yet gain the ability to traverse into the formal, scientific field of medicine?

These were questions our team began to discuss after we were approached by a Mayo Clinic Biobank research group interested in creating a patient consent form in the style of comics (in part inspired by works like David Small's Stitches, Tom Humberstone's Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Crohns Disease, and others which can be found at Graphic Medicine) . Their aim was to study the effectiveness of this approach as compared to a video or traditional text-based consent form. Our design team within the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation represents a range of backgrounds, but we are all steeped in applying a user-centered design process. Drawing on our cumulative experiences developing icons, interfaces, services, and products, we wondered whether the process of developing a comic-style patient consent form might be much different.

Panel from Tom Humberstone's Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Crohns Disease

A user-centered design process has led to the creation of other visual-based clinical tools developed by CFI - such as the decision aid for Type 2 diabetes - and I propose that this process could be applied to develop a comic-style consent form. The basic fence-posts in a user-centered design process include defining the problem through user understanding, surveying the landscape of possibilities, brainstorming divergent concepts based on these insights, and iterating with user feedback to converge on a final design. As part of a panel discussion at the upcoming Comics & Medicine Conference hosted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, I look forward to engaging the audience in conversation around the artist to designer spectrum and the different roles that may emerge within the convergence of comics and medicine. Our group is interested in how creating comics for the venue of patient care may require a change in the nature of the work - shifting it toward the design end of the spectrum. How would this affect the art?

Panel from David Small's Stitches

Is this shift necessary for comics to be adopted within the clinical setting? As innovative ideas traverse into new spaces, they come up against institutional and cultural barriers. New adaptations are needed for the idea to persist and navigate forward. Comics are accessible because they are a vernacular expression of the human experience. This style is not necessarily welcomed or respected in the formal, scientific realm of medicine. However, these very attributes are often what alienate patients from text-heavy education materials and make comics such a compelling approach for engaging patients in meaningful conversations about their care. A user-centered development process is our offering to the conversation as our team follows the progression of comics in medicine - an art of human expression applied to the science of health care delivery.

Rose Anderson is a service designer with the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. On Saturday, June 11, she will be a panelist at the Comics & Medicine Conference hosted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Her talk, “Applying Comics to Patient Care: Proposal for a Development Process” will examine how user-centered design methodologies traditionally found in product and GUI development could be applied to develop graphic novel style materials for patient care.