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My E-Patient Twitter Success Story

By | E-Patient, Health 2.0, Tweets | 

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.

Blog Post Replies

  • Lee Aase

    Hi Erin – Thanks for this great post! I worked with Dr. Berger and USA Today to set up that Twitter chat, and I’m so glad to hear it was helpful to you. I appreciate you telling this story, and would love to excerpt and link in our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog if that would be OK with you.

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  • Brian Rogers

    Hey cuz,

    Great write-up and an awesome success story! I’m happy to hear you got the treatment you needed. I’ll be forwarding this post to others…


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  • Becky Marquis

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through all of that, but what a cool story! Thanks for sharing and get well soon!

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  • Crystal Borde

    This is more evidence of the power of Twitter and other social media tools to increase access to new information and ideas. I’ve been following the Mayo Clinic’s social media strategy for the past year and I am so impressed with the depth and variety of channels they offer patients and their families to explore health care options and innovations. Glad to hear you will finally get some wrist pain relief!!

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  • Stales

    Wow! what an incredible story! Wishing you all the best.

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  • e-Patient Dave

    Well, this just rocks. You are extremely cool. If we had an “e-patient of the month” prize, you’d get it.

    But hey, as a teaching exercise for others, you can write this up for our “I am an e-patient” page if you want – in a way that might be informative for someone who can’t imagine anything other than what their local physician might know. What would you say this story teaches them, and how would you ease whatever concerns they might have?

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  • Karen Zhang

    This is absolutely great! I am sure your story would inspire so many people and give them a new idea of finding solutions to the health concerns. You know you might change their lives. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story!

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  • […] Article Erin Turner, SpectrumScience, 26 February 2010 SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “My E-Patient Twitter Success Story”, url: “” }); […]

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  • Sherry Reynolds

    Great real life story of the power of engaged, empowered consumers.

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  • Sushil Bansal

    Great story on being an ‘e-patient’ and leveraging the power of social-media tools. I’ll say sooner we all become e-patients, better we will be as a society – getting better health care, reducing costs, improving education …

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  • Toby Bloomberg

    Thanks for sharing your story. Wonderful validation that social media in healthcare works! Glad to know that you’ve found not only the right treatment but the right providers.

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  • Suzanne Turner

    Erin, your story is proof that patients should not be resigned to a diagnosis that eliminates all hope, but should search for answers in a variety of ways because scientists and doctors will continue to make incredible discoveries, advance medical care, and change lives.

    Thank you, Dr. Berger for improving my daughter’s life immeasurably. I will be forever grateful. :) Erin’s Mom

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  • Erin Turner

    Thanks to everyone for your responses! I think most of us agree that the Internet is changing the face of patient/provider communication, leading to better equipped patients who are empowered to become active participants in their own care. I hope my story helps to demonstrate the value this type of interaction can have for both patient and provider – if you think it does, please continue to pass it along!

    Lee — I’m looking forward to working together to share this case study with anyone who’ll listen.

    Dave – From what I hear, you’re pretty cool too! I’d be happy to write something for the blog – “Google it!” is always my first instinct, so it will be an interesting challenge to think about it from another perspective.

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  • […] referred you to us?” My answer was not traditional: “Twitter.” (Read her full story on the SpectrumScience blog. And take that, 2.0 doubters!) Comment Print  Email This […]

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  • Ann Gourieux


    Have you considered becoming a patiet advocate? It sounds like it is right up your alley.

    Fantastic stuff here!!!

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  • […] could successfully improve their health by using online pieces of information or communities. Here is a new story I will have to mention this March. Erin Turner suffered with pain in her right wrist on a daily […]

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  • […] could successfully improve their health by using online pieces of information or communities. Here is a new story I will have to mention this March. Erin Turner suffered with pain in her right wrist on a daily […]

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  • […] more on mayo’s use of social media, in general, read this interview with guy kawasaki. this blog post by erin turner, one of mayo’s patients, tells how blogs, twitter, and a story in usa today […]

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  • […] week, my colleague Erin discussed her amazing experience stemming from an online Twitter chat hosted by @MayoClinic. The Mayo […]

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  • […] society today trends towards e-patients where self-diagnosis is a mouse click away and Twitter is the new Yellow Pages for doctors, will health Web sites be the new “standard of care”? It’s safe […]

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  • […] how Erin met Dr. Berger, as she tells the story here in her blog post. And on Monday of this week, six weeks after her surgery, Erin returned to Mayo Clinic to have her […]

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