Communicating information to patients: the use of cartoon illustrations to improve comprehension of instructions

Acad Emerg Med. 1996 Mar;3(3):264-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1996.tb03431.x.


Objective: To evaluate the effect of cartoon illustrations on patient comprehension of and compliance with ED release instructions.

Methods: A prospective, randomized, controlled study of consecutive patients who presented to the ED of a community teaching hospital with lacerations necessitating wound repair during a three-month study period. At ED release, the patients were randomly assigned to receive wound care instructions with or without cartoon illustrations. Three days later, the patients were followed up by telephone. A blinded investigator asked a series of questions designed to test the patient's recall of, understanding of, and compliance with wound care instructions.

Results: A total of 234 patients were successfully contacted by telephone; 105 (45%) had been given ED release instructions with cartoons, 129 (55%), without cartoons. There was no significant difference in age, gender, level of education, or satisfaction with the ED visit between the two groups. The patients given cartoon instructions were more likely to have read the instructions (98% vs 79%, p < 0.001), were more likely to answer all wound care questions correctly (46% vs 6%, p < 0.001), and were more compliant with daily wound care (77% vs 54%, p < 0.01). Subset analysis of those patients who had less than a high school education (n = 57) demonstrated even larger differences between the two treatment groups in terms of comprehension of and compliance with ED release instructions.

Conclusion: Cartoon illustrations are an effective strategy for conveying information and may improve patient compliance with ED release instructions.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Audiovisual Aids
  • Cartoons as Topic*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patient Discharge
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*