Consultation with a doctor: pictures instead of words

No kid's stuff: comics and explanatory videos help adults communicate with medical professionals

Well informed: Successful communication between doctors and patients is important for both parties

©, iStock / AlexandrBognat

It's a bit like a well-known cheese advertisement: a couple on vacation in France enters a shop in search of the cheese that tasted so good. With their sparse French, the two are unable to describe the object of desire. Instead, they outline its characteristic shape - the shopkeeper understands, everyone is happy and satisfied.

Period emoji

Sometimes pictures say more than a thousand words. This also applies when doctors communicate complex findings to their patients or have to explain treatment to them. Or if they lack the right words in a conversation with the doctor because it is about supposed taboos.

For example, an emoji for smartphones that symbolized menstruation was published last year, driven by the children's aid organization Plan International - still a shame-ridden topic.

The pictogram is intended to change that and encourage young girls, for example, to speak openly with their doctor about the bleeding.With some messenger services, users can also use symbols to exchange information about internal organs, wheelchairs, prostheses and medical instruments.

Painful faces

Symbolic images have long since found their way into practices and clinics - for example to find out how severe pain is experienced. In addition to the classification on a pain scale from one to ten, a symbolic sequence of line faces - so-called smileys - which represent different degrees of pain depending on the color and facial expression, helps.

But it is not just the use of language that can be a problem. "Sometimes there is not enough time in a conversation between doctor and patient to convey the medical basics to patients that they need to really understand their diagnosis or the upcoming therapy," says Professor Verena Stangl, cardiologist at the Charité University Medicine in Berlin .

Explanatory comic about mammography screening

© Mammography cooperation group


© Mammography cooperation group

The invitation to the screening in special centers will be sent by post.

© Mammography cooperation group

Trained specialists x-ray both breasts on controlled devices.

© Mammography cooperation group

At least two doctors analyze the x-rays.

© Mammography cooperation group

If anything is unclear, the breasts are examined by ultrasound.

© Mammography cooperation group

Again a team of doctors discuss the results.


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Every woman from the age of 50 can participate in a program for the early detection of breast cancer every two years

"I am convinced that clear information materials can help patients to acquire a basic knowledge with which they are able to ask more precise questions."

Video clarification

The physician Dr. Johannes Wimmer was the same when he started out as a YouTuber with medical videos. Together with the University Hospital Essen and the Picker Institute, he interviewed patients in two clinics who were shown different educational videos before the doctor's consultation. The control group did not see any films. In fact, the video group felt much better informed overall.

While Wimmer himself appears in front of the camera, other providers rely entirely on imagery and produce animated films on medical topics. The mammography screening program in Germany, for example, offers such videos - on the meaning and content of the informational discussion that every woman can take advantage of before the examination. Or to the question: Does mammography hurt?

Better informed through comics

Verena Stangl prefers information material that can be touched. "I'm a real fan of comics," she says, "so it made sense for me to use such picture stories to educate people." Together with her colleague, the cardiologist Dr. Anna Brand, Stangl developed a 15-page comic that shows how a cardiac catheter examination with subsequent implantation of a stent works.

The doctors scientifically tested the benefits of the comics - with convincing results. Patients who not only had an informative discussion before the procedure, but also read the comic, felt better informed. And they actually had more knowledge about the procedure than the participants in the control group. "They were also much less afraid," says Stangl.

Education in book form

For the cardiologist, who is currently working on another comic, the booklet form has some clear advantages: "You can touch it, read at your own pace, turn back at any time and take it with you anywhere."

The question of whether the film or magazine provides better information is probably primarily a matter of taste. Scientific studies only show that people who are used to paper find it difficult to use digital media. It is crucial that patients feel enlightened. Because a better understanding of illness ultimately also promotes adherence to therapy. offers patients the opportunity to send in their findings and have them translated into understandable language by medical students. Online users can also find background information on common health problems in videos from the Apotheken Umschau at