When I arrived at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota a few weeks ago, I was asked: “Who referred you to us?” My answer was not traditional: “Twitter.”
For the past five years, I’ve suffered with pain in my right wrist on a daily basis, despite regular treatment from an orthopedic surgeon. I was diagnosed with an LT ligament tear and told that my only surgical option was a partial fusion of my wrist – a treatment he did not yet recommend and I was unable to accept as a solution. At the time, I remember having a conversation with my father: “You hear about these ballplayers tearing things and coming back to play the next season,” he said. “It seems like there should be a better solution than that.”
I was in pain. I couldn’t open jars myself or turn doorknobs with my right hand.
I was frustrated. I didn’t have much time with my surgeon and I didn’t feel like I was getting the answers I needed.
I wanted more.
Then, two things happened that changed the direction of my treatment.
First, my mother told me she saw something about wrist ligament damage in USA Today. My father’s foreshadowing, it turns out, was spot on. The article turned out to be about baseball player Jayson Werth and the treatment of a not particularly well-known wrist ligament injury: a UT split tear. Second, I noticed an alert on my Twitter aggregator: In coordination with the USA Today article, @MayoClinic was hosting a #wristpain Twitter chat with Dr. Richard Berger, the surgeon who discovered the UT split tear. When I read the article and the tweet, I knew I had to participate.
In typical e-patient fashion, I scoured the Internet for any information about this type of wrist problem, the surgeon and the Mayo Clinic’s orthopedic department. As it turned out, it took me about 10 seconds to find everything I needed. In the first in a series of things the Mayo Clinic did just right, I found a page on their site that provided everything: illustrations and video about the condition, a patient testimonial video, a podcast, a list of doctors trained in diagnosing and treating this condition, video of Dr. Berger explaining how he discovered the condition and the typical treatment course and even a journal article about the condition.
Over the course of the hour-long chat I was able to correspond with Dr. Berger about the pain I experienced and the options I had been provided. For the first time a long time, I felt hope. Dr. Berger said it sounded like there was more going on with my wrist than my previous diagnosis, and recommended I have someone else take a look. I decided to take Dr. Berger’s advice, and I went straight to the source. I gathered all my medical information and made an appointment with Dr. Berger in Minnesota.
Less than 24 hours after my initial appointment, I not only had a new diagnosis – a UT split tear – but had surgery to correct the problem. As I write this, my right arm is in a festive green, but otherwise annoying cast. The short-term hassle, however, should be more than worth the long-term gain – the potential for a future without chronic wrist pain. A future, that without Twitter and those in the medical community willing to experiment with new communications tools, might not exist for me.
As a communicator, I cannot tell this story without thinking about how it reinforces a few key points:
- Patients need to receive information through multiple channels. Even in times of frustration when patients are searching for information, they may not always go to the traditional source. For example, I use Twitter to filter news I find interesting, and don’t often visit Web sites of traditional papers. Patients in other demographics, for example my mother, may seek information in a different way. By repurposing and tailoring information for both traditional and digital media, organizations can work to appeal to the information needs of diverse audiences.
- Social media should be integrated with traditional media, when possible. Reading the USA Today article was informative, but alone would not have inspired my decision to travel 1,000 miles for treatment. By watching online video and interacting with Dr. Berger, I started to feel comfortable with him and convinced of his ability to help me. Through our 140-character-at-a-time dialogue, I developed a rapport with Dr. Berger, which influenced my decision to seek his counsel and ultimately select him as my surgeon.
- Success needs to be redefined. If you examine the number of people asking questions during the Twitter chat, it may not seem like many. If that were the measure used, perhaps this would not have been considered a successful tactic. But when you look at this interaction in another way, that in one hour the Mayo Clinic was able to educate me about a problem, answer questions, build a sense of trust between doctor and patient and ultimately acquire a grateful patient who will continue to tell this story to those around her, it is clear that few other marketing methods could top that.