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I recently had a thought-provoking conversation with Lee Aase, Director of the Center for Social Media at the Mayo Clinic. Social media technology is changing medical care in many ways, from hospital management to doctor-patient communication. Lee has been at the forefront of this revolution and has fascinating things to say. See excerpts from the interview below, and check out the podcast!

Richard Murphy: Hi, this is Richard Murphy with Health Works Collective. I'm speaking with Lee Aase who’s the director of the center for social media at the Mayo Clinic. Lee, can you give me just some specific examples from Mayo’s experience of how social media have helped improved patient outcomes in specific cases?

Lee Aase: Sure, I can tell you a story about Jason Worth, a baseball player who was [playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers] when he was hurt. Now he's with the Washington Nationals. Anyway, he had a ... very common type of injury to his wrist ... He was at the end of his rope, thought he was at the end of his career in August of 2006 when he came to see Dr. Richard Burger who is a wrist surgeon at Mayo Clinic who had discovered a kind of a split of a wrist ligament, that is a tear instead of being a complete rupture it’s a splint like a celery stick.

Richard Murphy: Mm-hmm.

Lee Aase: So, it doesn't show up on an MRI unless you really, really know what you're looking for. But Dr. Burger figured out how to fix it: A couple stitches, six weeks in a cast, rehab,  and 95% of patients are back to as good as new. When Jason got his career restored he ended up playing for the Phillies in the World Series. I'm a PR guy by trade and I thought how cool of a story is that?

So we tried to pitch that story to the national media at that time, it didn't work. I might’ve been too late with it or whatever...

Anyway, fast forward a few months. I was in Philly, shot a  Flip video camera interview with him, posted it up on our YouTube channel, posted into our blog, ...  telling the story of how Dr. Burger saved my career and I got to play the World Series. Fast forward a few more months, he's in another World Series, hit a couple home runs to put him in the series, this time not asleep at the switch we posted the transcript of his interview. We used it to pitch some stories and USA Today picked up on it ...

USA Today loved the story and as we were talking with them ... we said wouldn't it be cool if we did a Twitter chat with Dr. Burger so he could answer questions. USA Today went for it, put it in their paper. So we held that Twitter chat. Fast forward to a year ago last month, I see a ... woman in Washington DC .... who participated in that Twitter chat ... [Through] the YouTube videos, through the in-depth information we offered, she said wow, I'm pretty sure that's what I had because it actually it isn't easy to diagnose with an MRI but it’s pretty easy with a manual test to diagnose this.

Richard Murphy: Mm-hmm.

Lee Aase: And then [a young woman] in Pennsylvania [saw the YouTube videos and] said,  you know, I've got some frequent flyer miles, I want to see the guy who discovered this [procedure]. She was 28 years old, unable to open a spaghetti sauce jar, had been offered a wrist fusion. Actually, the orthopedic surgeon in DC had said I don’t recommend this fusion but that’s really all I can do. I don’t know what to offer here. As a result, today she's playing ... volleyball and doing great. So she's one case study. In the first six months of last year Dr. Burger operated more times for this condition than in all of the previous years.

Richard Murphy: So just to be clear,  this woman in DC learned about the procedure by hearing the story of Jason Worth via Twitter?

Lee Aase: Actually yea, so she had participated in that Twitter chat so she had been able to interact with Dr. Burger for the better part of an hour and got all her questions answered. It led to her getting helped which then led to another story in USA Today. She got to go say thanks to Jason for telling his story when they opened up their season in Washington last year.

Traditionally, the lament is that it takes 17 years for research discoveries to work their way into clinical practice. [This procedure] took about three years. It’s a huge difference.  [There's a] symbiotic relationship between the mainstream media and the social media, but the mainstream media doesn't have the information of the YouTube video.

Richard Murphy: Right.

Lee Aase: And then also having the ability to post in-depth interviews with Dr. Burger and demonstration of okay here's how you diagnose this. It’s made a huge difference for a lot of patients that we've seen...

Richard Murphy: So what if you didn't have a famous baseball player and the interest of USA Today and that old media angle that you just mentioned. Could you have achieved the same results through social media alone?

Lee Aase: Well, not the same results. Obviously it’s huge. The social media made that possible though but we are seeing other examples. I’ll talk about POTS Syndrome, with is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. This is a condition that affects primarily young girls. Something triggers it in their nervous system so that their heart starts racing when they go from laying down to standing up.

It causes the blood to pool in their extremities and not get to their head and they feel dizzy and nauseous and sometimes they're throwing up and they go to their local physician who typically says, "You're a teenager, you’re under a lot of stress. You need some counseling." But it’s a real physical condition and lots of young girls are struggling with this and are not able to get help. And they're being actually patronized by their physicians.

So we did a video about POTS Syndrome, plus a podcast of a 20 minute conversation with our POTS expert. We put it on YouTube and it's been listened to 50,000 times. We did a YouTube video where he's  explaining a study that he did that has something over 15,000, 20,000 views so far.

Here's another story: Hayley Lanmore is a little girl in southern California who went to Disneyland for her birthday. She woke up at night throwing up, and threw up 10 to 12 times a day for six months. Hayley saw lots of different specialists in southern California. One night her mom was Googling and came across this video that mentions POTS syndrome. It's about a young girl who looks just like her daughter. And she says wow, these symptoms sound just like Hayley’s.

So Mrs. Lanmore ends up coming up from suburban Los Angeles to the Mayo Clinic with her daughter to get help that she wasn't getting, and this was without any mainstream media leading to it. But that did subsequently lead to an piece about it because we got some video of Mrs. Lanmore telling her story.