by Vishnuprasad on  April 3, 2015 at 3:49 PM Health In Focus
When Patient-Designed Cartoons Made Other Patients Laugh at Their Own Illnesses
Humor can heal and laughter can sometimes be the best medicine. Cartoons can convey a message and leave a lasting impression besides making one smile! A new study from the University of Southampton has shown that cartoons drawn with inputs from patients with chronic illnesses can help similar patients cope better with their long term medical conditions.

Researchers say that cartoons are already being used to make people aware of various communicable and non-communicable diseases but the content is almost always sourced from health professionals rather than directly from the patient.

Southampton scientists clubbed patients' feedback and clinical evidence to make a series of cartoons, which demonstrated common experiences, problems and anxieties. They incorporated the cartoons into a self-management guidebook for patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Selected CKD patients were asked to give feedback on how such a guidebook made them feel.

Feelings toward the cartoons ranged from amusement and enlightenment and to outright hostility. But overall, patients found these cartoons useful and said it gave them insight on their respective illnesses.

Dr. Anne Kennedy, associate professor at the university and leader of the study, said that health professionals could use cartoons to help their patients engage more in the management of their own conditions. "Our study has shown that cartoons could provide clarity to patients and be a way to engage with them. It could also be a potential approach to support self-management. Cartoons can be challenging and the difficult emotional responses some pictures evoke could be used to help people adjust to their situation," explains Dr. Kennedy.

She also said that cartoons could also be used to dispel misconceptions about certain diseases. "The word chronic is often misinterpreted among patients. Reaction to the particular cartoon that demonstrated 'chronic' did prove a bit shocking to some patients. However, cartoons allowed the word to be talked through and it was a tipping point for patients to better understand what their condition was," she said.

Anne Rogers, research director, National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC), Wessex, who also worked on the study, said that patient-designed cartoons can give life-saving advice and help them manage their long term conditions while also boosting morale.

"The study findings can be used to develop cartoons that reflect patients' experiences. These cartoons can also help patients to think about where they can get support to suit their needs. However, more research needs to be done in this area to build on our findings," Rogers said.

The study was published in the Health Services Research Journal.

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