Shortly after the 2013 TRANSFORM symposium, Nic Breutzman's phone rang. The symposium had included a discussion about the potential that comics hold in improving communication in health care. A friend who works for Mayo Clinic's Center for Innovation knew about the comics Nic had drawn and asked the center's director of design to meet with him. "She saw my work and decided to give me a chance," Nic tells us. But that chance came with no guarantees or promises. "My initial contract was only three months long, so I had very little time to prove myself," he says. "But I took initiative, inserted myself in every project that would have me, and worked a lot of hours."
Nic started illustrating health care-related comics after answering a Craigslist ad looking for someone to illustrate a script about breast cancer. Today, his work is helping colleagues throughout Mayo Clinic better understand what patients are seeing, feeling and dealing with during the course of their appointments. The comics he creates are particularly helpful as a health care "design research tool," Nic says. "Part of doing design research is collecting patient narratives to gain insights into user needs/behaviors, and using comics to capture those narratives helps preserve the emotion and rawness of the patient experience that inevitably gets lost in field notes."
For example, he says, "I'll often shadow a patient through a long day of appointments and then take notes on how they experience Mayo's system," he says. "I turn those notes into a comic, which is then printed on large posters for project stakeholders to view. So instead of getting a long, dense report, they can look at the posters and immediately get a sense of where the stress points are for our patients during their appointments."
Nic's comics are also helping to improve the institution's patient education efforts. "I've created animations for the Pediatric Pain Clinic that have helped explain complex medical subjects in an accessible way," he says. "I'd also love to work directly with the Patient Education Department someday." Until then, Nic says he's going to continue making his comics as understandable and helpful as possible, so that those who use them are able to get insights into a patient's story in a fun, unique and innovative way. "No one knew if this was going to work, least of all me," Nic says. "But it's been an amazing experience."
You can read more about Nic's work in this post on the Center for Innovation blog. Then, share your comments and share this story with others via the In the Loop blog.