Fall 2017 student project led by ID professor Tomoko Ichikawa for Daniel Golden MD MHPE, Assistant Professor, Department of Radiation and Cellular Oncology, University of Chicago
Radiation therapies are not understood by cancer patients
Dr. Dan Golden from the University of Chicago presented us with a unique communication problem. External beam radiation therapy is an effective form of cancer treatment, but his patients didn't understand it. He and his staff noticed confusion and anxiety about what the treatment is and how they will experience it. Working as a small team under the direction of Tomoko Ichikawa, could we tackle this as a communication issue? Our goal would be to decrease the overall level of anxiety patients may have before, during, and after radiation treatment through an improved explanation of the process. First we would need to understand the patient journey and resources along the way...
After studying the treatment process for external beam radiation therapy we broke it down into five categories that all patients experience. Then, we designed a visual narrative around one character experiencing the journey. Our visual narrative had to work in three important ways. It needed to explain the formal process: the medical procedural information about radiation therapy. It needed to show the patient experience: what happens at appointments and when people might feel confused or anxious. It also needed to work in the broader context of doctor offices and treatment centers: help physicians explain details, help patients keep track of information.
We worked together as a team of researchers and storytellers to edit the information down into a compelling but educational visual narrative.
Our final prototype takes the form of a discussion guide. The visual narrative connects each section and additional info is explained in side panels. Checklists built into the comic help the patient understand parts of their treatment that will be customized for them. For example, patients are placed in different body positions depending on the targeted area. Checklists help the patient ask questions. "Will I need to drink water before treatment sessions?" or "Will I be too tired to drive myself to appointments?" are practical needs to plan ahead for. The discussion guide helps cancer patients prepare both mentally and physically for the different stages of treatment.
Testing and publication
Our current prototype will be tested with patients at University of Chicago this spring. We hope to evaluate its effectiveness before sharing it with other treatment centers. Our work has been submitted for publication in the Canadian Association of Radiation Oncology and the American Society of Radiation Oncology for 2018.
COMICS for communication is a new area of patient education that can improve information retention and patient compliance. We have been excitedly sharing our process with others in the medical and healthcare fields.