Manual drawing in clinical communication: understanding the role of clinical mark-making

Philippa Lyon, Martha Turland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This provocation focuses on research into the widespread manual drawing practices used between health professionals and patients in secondary care. These are drawings routinely produced ‘live’ and in front of the patient or colleague, experienced sequentially (mark by mark) in the moment of their production and sometimes retained, as having documentary (medical records) or personal value. Can these drawing practices be illuminated by Barthes’ comic strip theories of ‘relay’, in terms of the sequential unfolding of images, and ‘anchorage’, in which texts (or textual annotations and speech) pinpoint meanings that would otherwise circulate more ambiguously? What other interpersonal triggers and cultural factors bear on this approach to clinical communication? Is this type of drawing, selective, schematic, in-the-moment and interwoven with text as it is, seen as able to provide a quicker, or deeper, understanding for the patient or colleague? As a first stage in establishing groundwork for this research, a study has been conducted into health professionals’ experiences of the routine drawing practices they engage in for patients and colleagues. Using a phenomenological approach, the researchers developed a method combining semi-structured interviews of participant health professionals with prompts for them to make exemplar drawings, accompanied by commentary, for the researchers. Reflecting on the intellectual, ethical and methodological rationales for this research design and participant group, this provocation will consider some of the emergent themes, illustrated by drawings. It considers the value of such health professionals’ drawing practices in conveying technical information, especially in the face of patient anxiety and distress, and the potential of this type of drawing in enabling health professionals to represent contextualised and personalised information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-44
Number of pages6
JournalVisual Methodologies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • manual drawing
  • clinical
  • communication
  • phenomenology


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