The Revolution Will Be Social!

As the former social media specialist for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system, part of my job was helping fellow employees understand how the emerging field of social media affected - and was affected by - patient care. I wrote regular articles, like this one, for employee publications.

All net proceeds will be used to fund scholarships for patients to attend conferences sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

All net proceeds will be used to fund scholarships for patients to attend conferences sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

I'm honored to have been one of the essayists in the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media's first book, Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care. My essay, "Building Relationships on YouTube," is about the regular contact I have with patients through our YouTube channel and the unexpectedly brisk engagement we've had for years with videos that we never expected would be anywhere near the top of the charts.

All net proceeds will be used to fund scholarships for patients to attend conferences sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. I don't honestly know whether these conferences benefit the patients or the other attendees more. I carry around in my head at least a dozen quotes from patients who attended the last two social media summits I attended; their stories and perspectives remind jaded marketers, distracted administrators and technical IT geeks just who we're doing this for—and why.

I've met most of the other writers of this book. Through this work and the Mayo conferences I've been to, some have even become friends of mine. They're fantastically smart, compassionate people who not only can't wait to see what the future holds for the world of health care social media—they're creating it, too.

Here's more about the book. And here's my essay.

Building Relationships on YouTube

Our four most-viewed videos, by far, are not the compelling patient stories most likely to end up shared on Facebook or talked about over dinner. They’re didactic talking-head videos with hand surgeons about rare conditions and traumas—and they make up half our channel’s traffic.

Lots of people, it turns out, seek medical advice on YouTube. We pour good resources into our website, and I spend hours every week on our new Facebook page, but neither venue gets anywhere near the mail that our YouTube channel does. Virtually all our channel’s comments and direct messages are about these four conditions. These patients are looking for advice from us.

Before they searched for this information, they probably didn't know us from lonelygirl15. But there’s so little information elsewhere on these conditions, and our videos present real people who clearly know exactly what these patients are going through. As a result, visitors feel comfortable asking, “Should I have the surgery?” “Do you think it’s broken?” or, “Should I have someone look at it?” Some simply want us to reply with phone numbers and directions.

They could get this information by visiting our website, but they choose to post comments and wait for our reply. Replying with the information they request goes a long way toward building the relationships that were the impetus for our starting the channel in the first place.

As it would be unethical and irresponsible to offer medical advice, my ever-present challenge is finding new ways to answer the same question over and over without looking like I’m cutting and pasting. Our most popular video has elicited dozens of virtually identical comments. Of course, patients are not identical. They are, however, in pain, and desperate enough to seek help from strangers on YouTube. So they deserve my most thoughtful, helpful reply within the confines of my role as admin.

If they want information that may be useful to other viewers, I’ll forward the comment to the doctor who was in the video, and post the reply. Mostly, they want our advice, and that’s where I have to keep urging them to get checked out in person because we can't diagnose without an exam.

Our channel is changing as we cultivate our fledgling social media program. Until recently, it’s been a repository of marketing content: patient stories, provider interviews, location tours, and event coverage. Seeking deeper engagement with our audiences on the social level, we’re now learning how to add videos on the fly in ways better suited to the space: more often, more diverse, less formal. It's a natural shift, given how our viewers are using content. We'll be bringing more providers to our channel more frequently in different ways, such as with video extras we've added to our podcast series.

People seek help in familiar places. They’re used to the tone and format of forums like Facebook and YouTube. Meeting them there, as opposed to the howling uncertainty of the larger Internet, can be a great service to someone in pain. I think of it as a virtual housecall.

I often get messages that end, as a recent one did, “I am desperate.” As professionals bridging the space between the provider and the patient, we can use the ubiquity of YouTube to reach ever-wider audiences—not so that we can merely coat the virtual world with our brands, but so we can get help for those who haven’t found it yet.

And I know it makes a difference. One woman said of her son, “After watching your video, I think he may have childhood absence epilepsy.” Another viewer said, “This video gives me hope, Thankyou.” Measure that ROI.