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Graphic novels in health education

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Forget those dreary old health education leaflets. Liven up your display stand with the latest innovation in patient education — medical graphic novels. Titles such as ‘Cancer vixen’, ‘Blue pills: A positive love story’ and ‘Binky Brown meets the Holy Virgin Mary’ are sure to stimulate more interest than your primary care organisation’s latest leaflet.

Graphic medicine has been described in the BMJ as a popular new cultural trend and a valuable tool for medicine. Over the past 100 years comics have evolved to become viewed as a legitimate form of literature, but a subgenre, “graphic pathographies” — illness narratives in graphic form — has recently emerged to fill a niche for patients and doctors.

These publications can help patients learn more about their illness and find a community of similarly affected people, as well as provide doctors with new insights into the personal experience of illness and misconceptions about disease and treatment.

The distinction between graphic novels and comic books is imprecise, but the former tend to come in bound book form and are usually a single continuous narrative. They can be fiction, biography or non-fiction. Among the growing number of autobiographical works, many titles deal directly with the patient experience of illness or caring for others with an illness.

Ian Williams, creator of the Graphic Medicine website, wants the subject taken seriously. He says that graphic novels could be a resource for health professionals, playing a role in reflecting or changing cultural perceptions of medicine, enabling the discussion of difficult subjects and helping other sufferers or carers.

The graphic novel does seem to be gaining wider acceptance. The first academic conference on the subject, “Comics and medicine: medical narrative in graphic novels”, was held in 2010 at the University of London.

And graphic novels have been granted their own section in the Wellcome Library’s “Medicine and society” collection.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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