Emojis could improve patient-physician communication, Mass General physician says

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Emojis could help some patients better communicate their symptoms, concerns and other clinically relevant information, according to a study published Sept. 7 in JAMA.

The study's senior author is Shuhan He, MD, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Its other authors are Jennifer Lee, founder of grassroots group Emojination, and Debbie Lai, chief operating officer of the Act Now Coalition, which visualizes data on COVID-19 and climate change.

The authors argue each medical discipline could benefit from having its own unique set of iconography, as adopting healthcare-specific emojis into everyday practice could improve clinicians' communication with children whose language skills are still developing, people with disabilities and people who speak a different language.

The authors noted that emoji usage could allow for a point-and-tap form of communication that could facilitate emergency clinical decisions. They also said emojis could be used as annotations to hospital discharge instructions, which patients sometimes find confusing.

"It's tempting to dismiss emoji as a millennial fad, but they possess the power of standardization, universality and familiarity, and in the hands of physicians and other healthcare providers could represent a new and highly effective way to communicate pictorially with patients," Dr. He said in a news release

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