Saturday, January 6, 2007

clinical innovation, visual education, Twenty Clinical Innovations to Build-Patient Trust: Seventeenth in a Series

Future Patient Education Will Need To Be Visual to Build Doctor Patient-Trust

“Both word and image will remain. But in many cases the written word will be replaced by visual representation, and literary narrative will be displaced by illustration. Within the changing communication mix of word and visual, the visual will dominate. The challenge is to ascertain the optimal mix of word and visual in each field of endeavor.”

John Naisbitt, Mind Set! Collins, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006

A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. In the future, it may be worth 10,000 words. Visualizing is simply quicker and more effective than verbalizing, though you need the right combination of the two.

This already holds true in physician education. For more than 20 years, The American College of Surgeons has contracted with Cine-Med, a company in Woodbury, Connecticut, which has produced more than 1000 videos for the College of Surgeons for training surgeons.

With widespread broad band Web access, other companies are producing visual web-based programs to educate patients. When it comes to the language of medicine, and medical jargon, and new medical procedures, web-based pictorial video programs may be worth more than a thousand words, for these interactive video programs can answer questions and teach patients with simple language and clear illustrations what surgery and disease portends, what patients can expect, and how patients can avoid complications.

Bariatric Surgery

Consider bariatric surgery, that field of medicine dealing with weight reduction procedures to treat morbid obesity (defined as being more than 100 pounds overweight). For every surgeon to give every patient an anatomy lesson in what will be done at surgery is difficult. But a simple picture, drawn by medical artists, and approved by surgeons, can help enormously in simplifying understanding of the surgical process. On Google, for example, you can images of almost any surgical procedure you can conceive.

Laporoscopic Surgery

Take laporoscopic gallbladder removal (now about 15 years in existence). With pictures, surgeons can explain why a “closed” gallbladder removal through the navel is much safer and less debilitating than “open” gallbladder removal.

Heart Bypass Surgery

What about coronary artery bypass, now performed on as many as 300,000 Americans each year. With pictures you can explain what is being done and the difference, for example, the reasons for a single coronary artery versus a five coronary artery bypass.

What about the two most common joint replacements done today – hip replacements and total knee replacements?

Hip Replacements

Total Knee Replacements

Graphics need not be restricted to procedures. They can be extended to include complications of procedures; what to expect during normal recoveries, and how to deal with doctor treatment and self-treatment of chronic disease.

Graphics can be downloaded to patients and families to view at their leisure. This is important because research has shown patients forget 85% of what they have been told 10 minutes after leaving a surgeon’s office. Graphics can be downloaded to become part of the medical record, should future misunderstandings about what was said and what was done conflict.

The Power of the Visual

If you doubt the power of the visual, I invite you to visit Google. Type in your search on any health care subject, and click on images. You will immediately get a series of images, without video or voice, of course.

Or go to, a popular free video sharing Website. YouTube lets users upload, view, or share video clips. was founded by three employees of PayPal, using Adobe Flash technology to display video. It is now staffed by 67 employees and on the 13th of November, sold to Google, Inc, for $1.65 billion. The YouTube site contains the following number of videos for these surgical procedures: bariatric surgery (56), laparoscopic surgery (65), heart bypass (23), knee replacement (35), and hip replacement (45).

Most of these videos are from surgeons, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers performing the procedures. A few describe the patients’ experiences before and after surgery. The videos vary in quality and are not necessarily consistent, but they demonstrate beyond any doubt that a universally accessible visual world has arrived.

The visual, combined with the verbal, is powerful and will become an information and marketing staple of the health care industry.


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