Visual literacy and semiotic principles are widely used in the production of commercial promotional material but virtually ignored in health promotion campaigns.
An estimated 65 percent of the population are thought to be visual learners – people who retain information better by seeing pictures and videos rather than reading text or hearing information delivered orally. In fact, the percentage of visual learners may be much higher (some studies put the figure as high as 85 percent), depending on the methodology of the study and the categories of learning styles included.
Think like a visual learner
Generally speaking, visual learners:
- need to see a picture of what they are learning about before they fully understand it
- are drawn to colorful, visually stimulating things
- prefer written materials that include photos, diagrams, or illustrations
- usually recall information better when they can actually see the person who is speaking
Keeping these factors in mind, doctors can better serve visual learners in several simple ways. Show patients a diagram when you are explaining a condition or procedure – either an illustration from a medical text or an animation on a computer screen or iPad. Face patients when you are speaking to them, and pay attention to their verbal cues, such as “I see” or “I can’t picture that.” In any instructions, include pictures when possible. If using photos, make sure the patients in the pictures look like your actual patients – e.g., adolescents instead of elderly, if that’s your typical patient population. If using diagrams or illustrations, make sure they’re simple, colorful, and not overly technical.
Benefits of visual aids in patient education
Recent studies have shown that visual aids can improve understanding of health risks, and may even affect patients’ compliance. Additionally, researchers say that integrating visual aids with information technology holds great promise for increasing patients’ understanding of health risks and supporting more informed decision making.
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