Editor's Note: This essay is part of our weekly #TimeLessWisdom series, in which we're highlighting one of the contributions from our 2012 book, Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care. Learn more about the series.
Our four most-viewed videos 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 Web site, and I spend hours every week on our Facebook page, but neither venue gets anywhere near the mail 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 available 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 Web site, but 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, so they deserve my most thoughtful, helpful reply within the confines of my role as YouTube administrator.
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 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 house call.
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 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, Thank you.” Measure that ROI.