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The Importance of Emojis in Healthcare

Their applications and usefulness

The evolution of emojis

Emojis are widely used visual symbols representing people, animals, objects and more. They can convey a writer’s tones and emotions, which can help clarify the meaning of messages. This allows the writer to build a connection with the person who has received the message.

Emojis originated from smileys, which evolved into emoticons and, finally, emojis. Japanese originator Shigetaka Kurita released the first set of emojis in 1999, with the word “Emoji” being a transliteration of a Japanese word, with “e” meaning “picture”, “mo” meaning “write” and “ji” meaning “character”.

Emojis in healthcare

Emojis can play a significant role in healthcare by improving the communication of complex health concepts effectively, offering patients greater access to healthcare. Patients with limited health literacy would benefit from health reports containing emojis, which would help them understand and interpret information better. This was proven by a study by Stonbraker, Porras and Schnall (2019), which found that 94% of patients preferred reports with emojis as it aided their understanding.

For example, emojis can be helpful in the field of dermatology, where they can be used to complement information regarding things such as lesions, colours, and symptoms, allowing doctors to communicate additional information to patients alongside primary concerns.

In addition, emojis can be used in public health, such as to convey information about hand hygiene and infection prevention and control. By using emojis that are related to these fields, health professionals can communicate information and remind the public (especially patients with low levels of health literacy) to protect themselves against infections and the spread of diseases. Some existing emojis can be used to illustrate certain aspects of hand hygiene, such as touching (🤝), patient (🤒), clean (✨), procedure (💉), body fluid (🗣 💦), and exposure risk (❗).

Using emojis in healthcare systems, especially infection prevention and control, can improve communication among healthcare providers and receivers, therefore improving health.

The future of emojis in healthcare

One of the limitations of incorporating emojis into healthcare is that they are unclear. In a healthcare context, this could lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Therefore, healthcare professionals must be cautious when using emojis in patient communication.

Nevertheless, with clear guidelines and communication, if emojis are leveraged even more, they will play a very important role in healthcare communication, particularly in improving health literacy and access to healthcare for vulnerable patients. Due to new and evolving technology and communication, healthcare professionals also need to adapt, and using emojis could be a way this can happen.

Emojis have been rapidly evolving, with new diverse and inclusive emojis continuously being introduced, such as anatomical emojis and skin tone customisations. With roughly 30 emojis being relevant to medicine — excluding generic body parts, such as the ear (👂), hand (🖐), leg (🦵), and foot (🦶) — there is potential to create more emojis related to medicine and healthcare. Researchers Debbie Lai and Shuhan He have already proposed an additional 15 medical emojis: intestines, leg cast, stomach, spine, liver, kidney, pill pack, blood bag, IV bag, CT scan, weight scale, pill box, ECG, crutches, and a white blood cell.

Despite this, there is still a need for more diverse health-related emojis. This gap can be filled by the upcoming generation of students who study health sciences, as they can use their medical and digital knowledge to create emojis to communicate aspects of health care not currently represented, such as CPR, drawing blood, and more.

It is important to acknowledge the limitations and potential barriers to using emojis in healthcare. For example, they could be ambiguous, leading to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Therefore, healthcare professionals should be careful while using them in patient communication and follow any guidelines to minimise this.


Overall, emojis can have significant benefits, as they have proven to be a powerful tool in healthcare by enhancing health literacy and improving the communication of complicated health concepts to patients. Therefore, it is important to have clear guidelines on how and when to use emojis in a healthcare setting to increase their effectiveness. Health science students can contribute meaningfully to this field by proposing and creating new emojis.

Written by Naoshin Haque

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