Beyond Words: Imagery’s Power in Health Education

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Last week I read about a Toronto artist using comics to teach about birth control, which is pretty great. Rebecca Roher teamed up with gynecologist Dr. Aparna Sridhar to create resources that are medically accurate, something Dr. Sridhar says she sees as a needed alternate to Dr. Google and the anecdotal information often found in online forums. However convincing someone might be in a forum, they aren’t a doctor examining you and your medical history.

Using illustrations in medical and health education isn’t new: Gray’s Anatomy was first published in 1858. Seeing the body is vital to serving the body in providing healthcare. Using imagery to educate people about their bodies and health is an excellent tool in providing healthcare.

Combining words and pictures to teach about health can work throughout an individual’s life as their health and healthcare needs evolve. Images may reach youth who relate to the kapow of comics; they can also reach people with literacy challenges that print materials can’t reach; they can connect seniors who may struggle with comprehension.

The organizers of the 2017 Comics & Medicine Conference (Seattle, June 15-17) are hoping to show how comics can help to challenge the power structure of the status quo. The theme of the conference  is Access Points:

We invite participants to consider accessibility as a crucial aspect linking comics and health… Comics can explore the issue of accessibility in past and current practices of health care and can point to imaginative solutions for extending and expanding health care.

The energy behind the conference is the folks at Graphic Medicine, which is the brainchild of artist and physician Dr. Ian Williams. He says he started Graphic Medicine to change cultural perceptions of medicine and enable the discussion of difficult subjects, among other goals.

I love it.

Another use of imagery that challenges the status quo is used in body mapping, a practice that was used in a project bringing together women with HIV. They traced the shape of their bodies and used their life-sized outlines to draw, write and express how they feel about HIV. Facilitators helped them learn how it affects their bodies as well.

A lighter example of imagery and health education is found again in cartoons. Many will recognize the work of Randy Glasbergen, who has been cartooning for decades on health. Seeing one of his cartoons could help ease the stress of a medical appointment, which for some people can be uncomfortable. If humour fits, use it.

Effective communication is what reaches the intended audience. Imagery can empower people about their perspectives of health and disease; support learning and change. Imagery can speak across words, serving when language doesn’t.

 

Image: Allegra10, Morguefile

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