Effective visual communication is a pressing concern for any business, but in recent weeks is particularly relevant to the healthcare industry. There are several factors worth considering here, especially with regard to striking a good balance between presenting accurate information and doing so in a way that is understandable and memorable. We’ll take some time here to go through some of these factors and examine how various companies are tackling these concerns in their marketing graphics and materials, highlighting both good approaches and less-than-ideal approaches.
Here is an approach is to “Google-ize” the design process for healthcare topics.[i] The client is given the ability to select or deselect terms from a list, enter in specific data or numbers if they have them, and then scroll through all the different results that come up. Each result matches certain tags that were created based on the terms selected by the client. The that best suits their needs is then chosen. This is an approach that could work in many cases, albeit in a somewhat impersonalized way.
Show Not Tell
These topics can be confusing, and as a general note, many companies don’t truly take advantage of good visual communication or any visual communication. This is not meant as a judgment: “Typical display points offering static information are designed to meet a simple communication objective: inform patients and medical staff of internal events and basic facility information.”[ii] Their primary concern is presenting the information. However, there is a benefit to presenting information in a more descriptive fashion, which is where infographics or other visuals can be a tremendous aid. A lot of healthcare design is based around simplifying some very complex concepts, and presenting the viewer with choices they can easily understand. “The emergence of a new generation of dynamic tools and infrastructures allows hospitals and clinics to transform their digital signage installations into content networks, adding value to their services while enhancing the experience for patients and visitors.”[iii] In a sense, then, visuals can serve a role similar to tools such as TurboTax, where they clarify and direct attention towards topics specifically relevant to that user, and avoid placing unnecessary emphasis on extraneous topics that, at least for that user, serve no other purpose other than to confuse.
Focus On What’s Important
Such graphics and visuals generally support several goals of healthcare communications. They enhance the experience: Charts, maps, and other materials can be presented to make it easier for patients to understand and find answers to questions relevant to them. They filter out unnecessary information and create tailored visuals specific to the patient. Besides making the experience easier for the patients, good visual communication can also streamline workflows for staff and practitioners. Videoconferencing tools can allow for immediate sharing of information, schedules, and other advice, and patients can in term communicate with specialists in real-time through similar video apps. “This enables on-duty staff to supervise larger areas of hospital facilities and, in the case of non-urgent interventions, to do so without leaving their stations.”[iv]
Visual Communication and Best Practices
Finally, good visual communication can help to standardize approaches for best practices. While visual content can help explain or clarify concepts, it is not an end in and of itself and should be avoided if it is overly generic. “Generic content that is readily available and usually relatively inexpensive that “papers” over the screen, ensuring no black appears…. should be avoided, as it does little to enhance messaging and the overall objectives of the network.”[v] Other than providing specific information, it is also helpful if visual content is specifically branded to the providing institution, such that patients identify the helpful content with the people presenting it. “Equally important to content selection is visually conveying the facility’s brand with design elements like color schemes, animations, and music, which communicate to viewers that they are watching or interacting with a unique channel that has a specific purpose.”[vi] Finally, such visual content should be accessible, and intuitive to use regardless of whether they’re a patient, care provider, or another specialist. If doctors and nurses can do so without constant aid from IT resources, this will “[free] them up to spend more time with patients and deliver the best possible care.”[vii]
In general, a visual approach is much more effective at allowing patients (and people in general) to retain needed information. “Psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University has studied the art of communication, and his research has shown:
- People remember 10% of what they hear;
- 20% of what they read; and
- 80% of what they see and do.”[viii]
In general, visual design performs several needed functions. It documents job functions. Typically, if processes are documented at all, they might be done simply in Microsoft Office, and are “placed in thick binders that mostly collect dust or at best, get updated once a year or viewed when a new employee is hired.”[ix] Visuals such as flowcharts can be a huge resource here, by “[getting] everyone on the same page … to document job functions… [and] clearly show[ing] the steps needed for jobs to be done.”[x]
Another reason to use graphics in healthcare communications is to identify potential pitfalls immediately. Such design tools can “create a rough chart of the current situation in its reality, [which] allows everyone to see where the bottlenecks are, where there are redundancies and how, by using practical solutions, [they] can eliminate wasted effort.” Indeed, these design tools can create new useful processes. “Staff members can see where their part of the process fits into the big picture and are more likely to take ownership of their part of the puzzle.”[xi]
When creating infographics for healthcare topics, there are a few strategies to keep in mind. First, make sure your data is current and up to date. There are numerous resources for good data, including CDC.gov, healthdata.gov, and aha.org. Beyond ensuring the data is correct, it is also helpful if the data is structured in a way that makes sense. A useful rubric here is the LATCH model (Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, and Hierarchy), where information can be broken down by these categories so as not to overwhelm. Along these lines, it is also helpful to lay out the visuals in a clean, organized way that works not just for that particular content, but also for that content’s communication goals. “For example, if your content is mostly textual, you can consider informational/list layout. If your goal is to highlight a few key statistics, consider single chart or visualized numbers.”[xii]
Tell the story
Healthcare infographics should have a compelling story, which can be helped by using a clear sense of hierarchy and placement. “Use text to provide context for visualized elements such as icons and photographs… Use colors, shapes, contrast, white space, and other visual cues to draw attention to what’s important. Details such as font combinations can make or break a good infographic.”[xiii] Finally, even after crafting the perfect infographics, the work is not done: It must be seen or experienced by the target demographic. “To let your visual story on important health topics to be heard, you need to put it in front of the right audience on the right channels.”[xiv] There are lots of resources to do so effectively, including social media platforms, infographic directories, and email marketing.
Visual design in healthcare communications is a useful tool with clear benefits. They are an “important tool in teaching, business, giving inspiration, and presenting information [and are] one of the most powerful ways to communicate with complex data.”[xv] They make complex concepts much easier to understand and digest, and help people to efficiently find their way to the answers they are searching for, as well as be aware of potentials risks or problems with a particular approach. Please let us know in the comments how infographics have helped answer your healthcare questions!
[ii] Martin, Jay. “Visual Communication Improves Patient Experience.” hfmmagazine.com. American Hospital Association. February 2015. Web.
[vii] Spiegel, Ron. “Five Ways a Visual Communications Approach Can Help Medical Practices Get More From Their EMR Systems.” healthcareitnews.com. HIMSS Media. July 2009. Web.
[xiii] “Infographic Design 101.”
[xiv] “Infographic Design 101.”