The Universal language of pain


Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has long been associated with medical organizations around the world since 1977, providing medical access to the most remote locations due to its durability and functionalities. That’s how the brand has realized that one of the major issues in providing healthcare in remote area is ‘Miscommunication’. 

Because there are 7,000 languages in the world, and there are 73 languages used in Thailand alone, including Khmer and tribal languages such as Phuan, doctors encounter difficulties in diagnosing patients in remote areas, even with interpreters, miscommunication is still one of the most significant causes of medical errors.  

To reduce the rate of misdiagnosis and unnecessarily wasting medical resources and to increase healthcare quality, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the world’s leading medical vehicle, wanted to find a solution for this problem.


A universal language that transcends the borders of languages. Mercedes-Benz and Thai Health Foundation have collaborated to create the symbol system that can help doctors identify pain and diagnose every known illness, without using verbal language. Each pain symbol is designed based on instinctive shapes and forms that are instantly relatable to everyone.   Each pain symbol helps doctors in diagnosis for example, if the patients experience ‘burning pain’ in stomach, the cause could be acid reflux, but if they experience ‘twisting pain’ in the same area, this could be intestinal obstruction.   The symbol system overcomes language barriers, and leads medical personnel to the right diagnosis in different illnesses.


design background

Each pain symbol is designed based on instinctive shapes and forms, developed with pain management specialists.

Q & A



Q: Why is this ‘Language of Pain’ universal?

A: Because we use instinctive design, which is the design from fundamental objects, shapes, and forms; the symbols are based on experience that can be perceived and give the same understanding for all.

For example, the shape of a thorn, no matter what this pointy shape is called in any languages around the world, everyone have the same understanding that this shape is sharp and know the feeling of pain it causes. Or the shape of fire, everyone automatically understands the feeling fire gives- -the burning sensation.


Q: How was each pain symbol designed?

A: Mercedes-Benz has partnership with medical organisations nationwide, so a team of communication designers developed each symbol with pain specialists from Thai Health Foundation and Siriraj Hospital, as well as the medical volunteers from Princess Mother medical volunteer foundation to understand more on rural patients. In order, to achieve the most effective symbols to communicate pain.




Q: Why is interpreter or technology not used as a solution?

A: Out of more than 7000 languages around the world, only 3900 languages have written language*, this means dictionary or application are not practical solution. And when volunteer doctors access some rural areas, patients use various languages, or even less-known tribal languages, and interpreters aren’t available at all times.



Q: If the patient and doctor speaks the same language, does this still help?

A: Yes. Pain description is highly subjective, even with the same language, people use different descriptions to explain the same type of pain, and this causes misunderstanding between patients and doctors.
For example, in Thai, “Jeed-jeed” and “Plab-plab” or even “Priah!”, these words can mean “spicy” or “hit” or “break”, but these are the words patients say to describe electric-like pain. With this set of symbols, the person can identify their pain based on visuals,and make doctors understand their pain better.




Q: Will this be suitable for emergency purpose?

A: No. For emergency cases, patients often have external wounds or in the state of unconsciousness, and require urgent medical treatment based solely on doctors’ expertise and judgment. But besides that,this is suitable for all non-emergency cases.


Q: How reliable can this be used in diagnosis?

A: This tool is to assist in enable patients and doctors to understand the pain patient is experiencing better, but for other symptoms,it requires doctor’s expertise to evaluate or even lab test for further diagnosis.




Q: How does it help doctors in diagnosis?

A: In the same location, such as stomach, each pain type can be caused by different diseases.
For example, burning pain can be caused by acid reflux, While twisting pain can be caused by intestinal obstruction. It helps doctors to provide more accurate diagnosis. Or even when the patient chose two symbols, it at least gives directions to identify diseases and help narrow down the possibilities, for example, if the patient choose twisting pain and squeezing pain symbols the causes are more likely to be related to obstruction, and rule out those caused by stomach acid.


Q: Are the usage limited to just doctors and health professional?

A: No. The usage can expand to people who are traveling overseas, or even those with conditions that prevent them from speaking such as people with speech impaired.This can also be implemented in medical curriculum and public health programs to benefit more people.


endless implementations