In the game broken telephone, players sit in a circle and whisper a brief message, moving from one person to the next. The game ends with a room filled with laughter as the last person repeats what they heard only to learn that the original message has been distorted through a series of miscommunications. Unlike broken telephone, effective communication in healthcare is not a game, says Dr Candice Hendricks.
In healthcare, effective communication can be lifesaving.
Hendricks is a paediatric haematologist, which is a paediatrician that specialises in the treatment of children with serious blood disorders.
She is also the founder of the Lusandi Medical Animation Studio (LMAS), a medical non-profit organisation (NPO) aimed at empowering, elevating and educating children and their families on medical conditions, diseases, and treatments in a language they understand.
Speaking to the inspiration behind LMAS, Hendricks tells Health For Mzansi, “South Africa is so language diverse and [I was] thinking if there was just a way for them [patients and families] to be able to watch this over and over and in their first language and to involve the child in their own process, because children are often excluded from their own counselling sessions.”
“I want patients and their families to know that they are not alone, that through their struggles and pain, there are people who care for them and will walk beside them,” she adds.
How animation can help break barriers
Hendricks is currently based at the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine (ICMM) at the University of Pretoria in a research laboratory where she is working towards her PhD in umbilical cord blood stem cells.
She completed her paediatric training in 2014 and was awarded a Life Healthcare Scholarship in 2015 to train in paediatric haematology at the University of Pretoria.
During her training, she became increasingly interested in improving outcomes in children with high-risk haematological malignancies. This ignited her passion for stem cell transplantation and increasing the availability of stem cell treatments.
A total of 70% of blood cancer and blood disorder sufferers require a blood stem cell donation from a non-related donor. However, a general lack of information and education are major barriers preventing eligible potential donors from registering on the global registry.
“We know that there are many people living in our townships who are suffering from blood disorders, but they also need us to advocate and say the community must step up and get tested and see if this person has a match within the community. The nice thing about stem cell donation is that it is the simplest donation you can give somebody.”
Filling a gap
Hendricks discovered that counselling through an interpreter – although necessary – was not always the best way to educate patients and families on what to expect when receiving a diagnosis.
She envisioned a television series where the viewer would get an understanding of complex medical concepts that were explained simply and in a more relatable format. It was then that LMAS was born, with initial assistance from animator Martyna Scibiorek.
“I feel that storytelling is a very important and powerful tool to get messages across to people and that is why we have gone the animations route,” she says.
The videos demonstrate the ease of registering as a donor and the life-changing impact of the donation on the patient.
The three-part series serves to educate patients and their caregivers in simple but medically accurate language. Episodes are available in isiXhosa, isiZulu, tshiVenda, Setswana and English, and documents the life of a young blood disorder patient, Dineo, from diagnosis to transplantation.
“It is very difficult to connect to somebody if you are unable to speak their first language or a language that they are comfortable in,” she says.