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Humanising illness: presenting health information in educational comics

McNicol, Sarah (2014) Humanising illness: presenting health information in educational comics. Medical Humanities, 40 (1). pp. 49-55. ISSN 1468-215X

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Abstract

Research into the effectiveness of comic books as health education tools overwhelmingly consists of studies evaluating the information learnt as a result of reading the comic, for example using preintervention and postintervention questionnaires. In essence, these studies evaluate comics in the same way in which a patient information leaflet might be evaluated, but they fail to evaluate the narrative element of comics. Health information comics have the potential to do much more than simply convey facts about an illness; they can also support patients in dealing with the social and psychological aspects of a condition. This article discusses how some common elements of educational comics are handled in a selection of comics about diabetes, focusing on the more personal or social aspects of the condition as well as the presentation of factual information. The elements examined include: fears and anxieties; reactions of friends and family; interactions with medical professionals; self-management; and prevention. In conclusion, the article argues that comics, potentially, have many advantages over patient information leaflets, particularly in the way in which they can offer ‘companionship’, helping patients to address fears and negative feelings. However, empirical studies are required to evaluate educational comics in a way which takes account of their potential role in supporting patients in coming to terms with their condition, as well as becoming better informed.

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