Why Medical Animations Increase Patient Engagement

Feb 23rd, 2023

By: Tziporah Thompson

Imagine you’ve just received a message from your doctor’s office asking to discuss some test results from an annual check-up. A spike of anxiety washes through your system. You sit with your doctor, who explains that the ABC test came back with a result of 123 which is over the normal amount of XYZ. You nod, make the appropriate “oh, uh huh” noises, and chuckle at whatever the doctor says to lighten the mood. You’re then sent home with a packet of printed information you’ll probably never read. 

We’ve all experienced this scenario, or are close to someone who has. But does anyone actually come away with a comprehensive understanding of what to do next? 

Clearly there is a communication problem here, and luckily there may be a solution; educating with videos. And not just videos, but animations. There are 3 reasons that medical animations can help drive patient engagement in a healthcare setting:

Low Barrier to Entry

By using moving images paired with voice-over, an animation provides the patient with two avenues of sensory input for processing information. This doubles the chances of comprehension; if they don’t understand a word said, they may infer meaning through the context of the visuals, and vice versa. Studies have shown that a patient's short-term understanding of a topic after watching a video is much higher than after reading a document or even having a personal consultation with a healthcare provider.

Relatability & Role-Modeling

In his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud breaks down what makes a simple cartoon face –😐– so universally appealing: “The more cartoony a face is, the more people it could be said to describe…when you look at a photo or a realistic drawing of a face, you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon, you see yourself.” This observation has profound meaning for all simplified visualizations of the real world. When we create illustrations or animations of the inner workings of our bodies, the simplification allows us to project our own experience onto what we are watching and thus feel more connected to the scenario. 

Neural Advantage

It’s old news at this point that videos on social media generate more engagement (measured by clicks, time spent watching, and follow-up actions) than still images paired with text. Even in instances where we’d rather keep scrolling, our brain is literally programmed to focus on moving objects. The benefit here being that a nervous patient who lacks the attention necessary to focus on text or someone speaking may have an easier time focusing on an animation with colorful visuals and soothing music. 

Ultimately, the fundamental breakdown of communication between healthcare provider and patient is a critical problem in the healthcare industry, particularly for low-literacy communities. By helping a patient better understand their personal role in their recovery journey, we can help improve their outcomes. Medical and scientific animations can be the key to making that happen. 

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