LeQ Medical

Communicating the ideas that are changing medicine

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Case Study: This is Spinal Tap and Five Reasons Why This Works

Lumbar puncture art by LeQ Medical

This project came to us from another agency who was putting together a very large, very comprehensive website. One of the services to be described on the website involved lumbar puncture or a “spinal tap” procedure. We wrote the text, which is what the client ordered, but we also provided this illustration. The key thing to understand with lumbar puncture is that it is a procedure aimed at drawing out cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which the body protects heavily by storing it within the spinal cord itself. This drawing demonstrates how a needle (puncture) can navigate its way between the bony protrusions of the vertebral column and puncture the spinal cord to get the CSF.

This art work is relatively simple to understand, particularly if you read the descriptive text. But we have some secrets, so let’s pull back the curtain to show you why this works as well as it does. After all, there are lots of ways to illustrate a spinal tap. Why did we do it this way and not some other way?

1. This drawing is not what the patient will see or experience during the procedure–it might be tempting to show the patient just the needle or explain that he or she will be asked to curl up on a table to expose the spine. It might be tempting to explain that patients are given a local anesthetic first. But we focused on the actual nuts and bolts of a spinal tap. This is a needle that finds its way inside your spinal cord. It works because we picked the right thing to illustrate. When explaining medical concepts to patients, it is important to give them the big picture first (“this is what we’re doing”) rather than emphasizing the details. Our article did explain all the other parts about a spinal tap, but the art work emphasized the main concept. Takeaway: picture the big concept first.

2. One important aspect to a spinal tap is that a patient gets a shot into his backbone. That’s why we did the person with the vertebral column to the left and it’s why we used the big red box to highlight the area that the doctor would target. This helps orient the patient and physician. There is nothing really in this image that is important so much as we are identifying the approximate region where the lumbar puncture occurs. Takeaway: give your viewer a reference point.

3. The needle is stylized, that is, we do not show the big massive thing that they jab into your spine during a lumbar puncture. The purpose of this picture is not to terrify the patient but to show that a needle will be inserted into the spine. We chose to emphasize the important aspect of the needle (the needle part) and avoid going into the details about the puncture part. Takeaway: Know what details to omit.

4. The spinal column is perhaps the most vulnerable area of the human body, so rather than draw it as a complex structure or try to indicate how the vertebrae stack themselves up around it like a fortress, we made it a simple yellow column. This is stylization at its best. By focusing on what is important and limiting medical detail, the art gives a clearer picture. Takeaway: It’s better to be clear than to be thorough.

5. You might think it unnecessary in such an abbreviated drawing to include a drop of CSF going into a vial, but this is the point of the procedure. We wanted to remind the patient that the goal is to get some drops of fluid stored in the body within the spine into a test vial for examination. Takeaway: Never lose sight of the point you’re trying to make.

This drawing was done for a hospital website.

 

 

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Case Study: Six Reasons Why Your Neurons Like Illustrations (and Hate Photography)

Neuron or nerve cell illustration from LeQ MedicalIllustrations are probably the single biggest secret to writing effective how-to and informational pieces, whether it’s a clinical article or a manual. We’ve seen a major trend these days toward photography in manuals, technical literature, and even clinical pieces, for which we blame Bill Gates. Microsoft put software in the hands of the masses who now believe that they can single-handedly write great technical literature and product literature, but since the masses generally cannot draw, they use digital photography to provide illustrations for their homemade manuals.

But illustrations, whether highly refined as the neuron art here or simple line drawings, offer six major advantages to your informational, technical, clinical, and how-to materials.

  1. An illustration is artificial, which means we can take the object or even concept and illustrate it showing only what is important. Has a giant neuron ever appeared as we have illustrated it? No, of course not. But the purpose of our illustration is to show the reader (or web visitor) the key elements included in a neuron. Photographs and other “real-life” image techniques include a lot of noise or extraneous material. It’s hard for your brain to sort out what is important from what is just “there.”
  2. The illustration allows us to exaggerate certain aspects of the image–whether it’s a workflow diagram or a picture of a brain cell–so that the reader can get a very clear concept. Dendrites are not really as clean-cut as they appear here, but it is important for a person learning about neurons to understand that they have fiber-like projections.
  3. Illustrations allow you to control what you show you reader. This includes being able to blow up or magnify certain areas.
  4. Illustrations minimize the need for translation and can facilitate the translation of the text you do have to put into another language. Translators charge by the word. Translating this drawing involves translating 14 words (cost, less than one of those fancy coffee drinks), but it communicates a great deal. Furthermore, translators working on your narrative text can use the art as reference.
  5. People understand illustrations. Photography, fluoroscopy, radiography, ECG or EEG tracings, and all of the rest can be a bit of a foreign language, particularly for laypeople or clinicians who are just not used to those images. Even photographs can be tough to interpret if not properly staged. Illustrations are something that everyone understands: people of all ages from all over the world know how to “interpret” a drawing.
  6. Illustrations give you some style. When you rely on photography or images from real-world medicine, you run the very real risk that they will all look different. I’ve seen manuals that use photography to explain how to assemble items … and the photographs are each a unique style. Some are dark, some are light. The hands in one are quite clearly different than the hands in the next photo, and the hands in the third photo are wearing gloves. With illustrations your manual or training book has a coherence to it.

LeQ Medical can provide a wealth of illustrations for your medical project. We do original, custom art, which means you can submit it as “original” to journals or publish it through your company. Although you can use the art, you must buy the copyright separately if you want to be the copyright owner. If you want original art work, talk to us and we can explain costs, timelines, and whether or not it makes sense for you to hold the copyright.