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Dr. Farris Timimi (Credit: Mayo)

Mayo exec: Social media "not an option, it's a requirement"

by Brendon Nafziger , DOTmed News Associate Editor
A young woman might not have gone to Mayo Clinic to undergo a special technique for treating a wrist injury if it hadn't been for a live Twitter chat facilitated by USA Today, the hospital's social media guru told attendees at the World Health Care Congress' mobile health innovations talk on Monday morning.

In a panel discussion on mobile health, Dr. Farris Timimi, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, said hospitals must turn to social media to help advertise their services and even to help further research on rare diseases.

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"I believe it's not an option, it's a requirement," he said.

Timimi said Erin Turner, a woman in her 20s who suffered from debilitating wrist pain for half a decade, was inspired to visit Mayo's Minnesota hospital after participating in a Twitter chat with Dr. Richard Berger, the developer of a technique for finding and fixing ulnotriquetral ligament tears.

The chat took place in a widget running alongside an online USA Today story about Jayson Werth, a baseball player who underwent Berger's treatment at Mayo after a 2005 injury nearly derailed his career. (Werth, now doing fine, recently signed a $126 million, seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals, Timimi said.)

"We had Dick Berger available to chat, to meet the consumers where they're at," Timimi said. "Without Twitter...[it] wouldn't have happened."

And social media was also used to get Werth's story out into the world in the first place. Timimi said they helped promote the story, which eventually got picked up by a local news channel and newspaper, as well as USA Today, by posting a dugout interview filmed with a flip camera on YouTube.

But connecting with consumers isn't the only use for social media. Timimi said he also believes it can help further rare disease research, in part by helping to recruit patients -- always a challenge with uncommon ailments.

Timimi gave the example of Katherine Leon, a woman diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, in her late 30s. In this rare and sometimes deadly condition, which usually affects women, a tear in the inner layers of the coronary arteries can block blood flow, resulting in a heart attack.

After being diagnosed with SCAD, Leon teamed up with another woman and helped convince Mayo cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes to run a study on it. Using their online communities, in March 2010, they recruited patients for a pilot study -- within the first week of trying, the women recruited 18 people, six more than they needed for the 12-person study, according to Mayo. Over the next six months, records from women around the world helped build up a SCAD databank, Timimi said.

"Social media is the right thing to do, it's not a marketing strategy," he said.

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