Dr. Shuhan He, Program Director of the Healthcare Data Analytics program, is a leading voice on the need for widescale usage of the ubiquitous symbols

Emoji are ubiquitous, especially on social media and in digital communication, where symbols are understood universally with little room for misinterpretation. But in the world of medicine, emoji have yet to catch on.

Dr. Shuhan He, Program Director at the MGH Institute’s new Healthcare Data Analytics program, wants to help change that.

He, who was the driving force behind the Massachusetts General Hospital effort to create the anatomical heart and lung emoji now seen on every device worldwide, recently published “Interpreting Emoji: A Language for Enhancing Communication in Healthcare” in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open. His commentary makes the case that emojis have the potential to improve communication, patient outcomes, and provider-patient relationships.

“The use of emoji in medical charts is a relatively new and emerging topic, and there is a lack of research and understanding around its potential benefits and drawbacks,” said He, who is also physician-scientist in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Consider an example: if a physician responds to a question with 👍 in answering a consult or page, is that considered a legal medical order? The impact of a thumbs up in the medical and legal system could be super interesting and a really important area of study.”

In fact, a Canadian judge recently ruled that the “thumbs-up” emoji is just as valid as a signature and pointed to the “new reality” of how people communicate. He also dismissed concerns that allowing the thumbs up emoji to signify contract acceptance “would open up the flood gates” to new interpretations of other emoji.