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Feb 18, 2013 · 19 Replies

The "Right" Length for Health Videos

By Lee Aase, Director, Mayo Clinic Social Media Network @LeeAase

Last night I had my first opportunity to participate in a video discussion using Google Hangouts On Air (an impressive service which will be the topic for a future post.) The topic was Contagious Content in Healthcare and it was organized by Kathi Browne with the video hosted on her BrowneKnows blog. My fellow guest were Brian Ahier, Dr. Patricia Raymond, Dr. Val Jones and Todd Hartley.

One of the interesting questions we discussed in creating "contagious content" was the "right" length of videos. Generally received wisdom is that videos shouldn't be more than three minutes long, and preferably should be shorter, to avoid "losing" viewers. I pushed back against that a bit because of our experience with videos like this one on myelofibrosis, which clocks in at 10:28 and yet has racked up nearly 14,000 views on YouTube as of this writing.

My point was that for unusual, serious or life-threatening diseases and conditions the rules of thumb for video don't apply. People facing those situations are looking for all the information they can get, and so they welcome longer videos.

As a health care provider, you'll (almost) never get a million-view viral hit, but that probably shouldn't be your goal.

  • Your goal might be to provide information and increase empowerment of patients...which may cause some of them to seek your services because they find you trustworthy and credible.
  • Or it might be to provide education to your existing patients, so that less of your precious 1-1 time with them is consumed by these general topics.

Don't drone on needlessly, but you really don't need to worry about the casual viewers: they aren't your audience.

Ironically, our conversation finally came around to this point as the doctors hanging out with us talked about their limited time and the typical seven-minute appointment, and that patients are frustrated by not having enough time. That led me to observe that it isn't the patients demanding shorter videos - their attention span is just fine when it comes to a topic that concerns them. So if office visits aren't going to get longer, videos provided in advance (or as a prescription afterward) can be a way to focus that in-person discussion by providing important background and general information.

With all that said, I'm embedding the YouTube video from our Hangout (as Kathi did on her blog). It's about 53 minutes long, so it's way outside the parameters of what the general public will find compelling.

But if you work in health care and are interested in patient communications, it might be just what you need.

What do you think? Are there different kinds of messages that need to be shorter? What's your customary target length? Share your thoughts below.

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Posted by @patelliott, Feb 19, 2013

Thanks for this topic, Lee. I was a health communications pro who focused, like most do, on short videos, until I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in 2009. A long video interview from a national expert in my condition, from a major medical conference, provided the most current information, and more targeted information, than the hospital where I was treated or my local medical team. I now work with the company where I saw the video,, and with patients with many types of serious conditions and major medical centers, such as MD Anderson Cancer Center, which focus on providing in-depth information directly to patients.

One trend that has been underway for several years now is patient advocates going to medical conferences with their own video cameras and crews to bring new data back to the patient community. I wrote about this in 2010:,0

When your life, and/or quality of life, is on the line, your need is for substantive information, and that often takes more time. Another factor is that your state of mind changes when you're diagnosed with a serious condition, and you may need to view the information several times to absorb it. You also need ways to share your situation with others who are supporting you. There is a tremendous need for educational videos that address serious medical conditions from the patient perspective rather than the short, promotional videos that too often offer no more than basic, encyclopedic data that is far too often out of date. Patients fill in the information gaps by joining online support groups, and in many cases are influenced by other patients in the choice of doctors and hospitals that can provide the best treatment. Providers that want to distinguish their offerings, and build trust with patients, would do well to conduct focus groups with us and hear from us directly to better meet our needs. What we say just may surprise you!


Posted by @mxg01, Feb 27, 2013

Lee- definitely agree with different lengths depending on audience and purpose. Looking forward to hearing more on HOA. I would like to consider piloting a program on amyloidosis (rare disease, but some types are underdiagnosed - new treatments on the horizon)

Posted by @LeeAase, Feb 19, 2013

Wow...what a great comment! Thanks for sharing your perspective as someone who has been there.


Posted by @patelliott, Feb 19, 2013

You're welcome! And as an Arizona resident who works closely with the MPN community I would add that Dr. Mesa's annual updates are highly valued by those living with myelofibrosis, on a worldwide basis, as well as by medical professionals who treat MF, and 14 minutes is not too long. 🙂


Posted by @scottscowcroft, Feb 20, 2013

I was privileged to view this hangout live and appreciated hearing many insights from a stellar panel, Newly diagnosed patients really do appreciate longer form videos. (1) It's just too much to expect most patients to remember the physician said, and (2) they want/need good information to share with loved ones. Given this, my question:Going forward, what role, if any, will highly produced short videos play the doctor/patient relationship?

You can see highlights and read a summary of the Contagious Content hangout at


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Posted by @LeeAase, Feb 20, 2013

Thanks, Scott. I think the more highly produced short videos can have a place in public health and for more common conditions. I think for rare and serious conditions longer and more informal will be better.

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Posted by @kathibrowne, Feb 20, 2013

I wish we could have continued the discussion on how to get this accurate and informative content to the people who need it. Recognizing both physician and patient perspectives as valuable, wouldn't it be great if there were a grading system that affected google ranking? Then length wouldn't even be questioned, would it?

Posted by @LeeAase, Feb 20, 2013

I think that's an interesting idea. Not sure how it could be implemented globally, but one thing I'm interested in is developing a site curation by medical professionals and then also taking into account likes by patients/consumers. So the medical pros might vouch for scientific accuracy, while the consumers might give a grade for helpfulness and clarity. Something for further rumination.

Thanks also for inviting me to hang out with you...


Posted by @ddonovan, Feb 21, 2013

I was unable to attend the on line event. From all that I am reading and a variety of personal and professional experiences I'm not sure there is a "right" length for videos that deliver health information. It's a bit like asking what's the length of a piece of string.

Now that any niche audience can find specific information on their desired subject, video content should be as long as the audience needs it to be to receive the information being provided. The ability to hit the replay button allows for the deep level processing of more complex information. Perhaps it's most similar to "chunking" information delivered in blog posts (bold headers, bullet points, etc.) the same can apply to health info videos. The technology allows for chapters and play lists for information to be "chunked." The best example I can think of is how Kahn Academy operates (here's their health care basic videos:

I do like the idea of making sure content is current with a rating system by professionals. Their ability to share on their own sites/channels seems to be a good voting system. Like anything though, there's no such thing as "set it and forget it" so as health care professionals evolve their thinking and medical practice, they need to be committed to keeping their "recommended" content current.

I am a new member to this community and am honored to be part of the conversation.
viva HSMN!


Posted by @garylevinmd, Feb 25, 2013

Lee, Google Hangouts are very powerful, free of cost, can have up to 15 interactive participants, and unlimited observers in the HOA. Hangout and Google stream are now my main thrust in social media engagement. I use my twitter, and facebook presence to inbound market for my blogs as well. I moderated the first live HOA on Google some time ago.



Posted by @alexandratursi, Feb 26, 2013

Dr. Levin, I'm interested in piloting a Google Hangout. What would you recommend for a pilot event? Any topics that are particularly sticky with your community? Feedback and advice welcome!

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Posted by @garylevinmd, Feb 26, 2013

Great idea, Google + Hangouts are relatively new to social media. I attended a webinar on the predicted confluence of social media and EMRs. Theoretically it would work like this. The patient would be able to interact with their EMR on demand if needed. Everyone goes to sleep with a smart device on the nightable, at a restaurant. Pt could twee to the MD they are not feeling well, it would show up in a queu in the Appt calendar to be could also be used for surgery followup.."My side is hurting" or my incision is red and full of pus". current EMRs are not use friendly, they need to be redesigned as a graphifc user interface. SM is accelerating changes in software a nd medical applications. (how is that for a start/ too much? Let's hangout and plan a pilot my gmail How about a time and date?


Posted by @pfanderson, Feb 26, 2013

Gary, just a point of clarification. The 15 interactive participants is for enterprise accounts ONLY, not for the general public, who are limited to 10 participants.


Posted by @pfanderson, Feb 26, 2013

From the educational point of view, we've been having to argue the case for longer videos with our campus media managers. They've expressed a desire to gradually shift the campus into a model that restricts all public video content to 3 minutes or less. I was, naturally, HORRIFIED. I am a firm believer in "match the tool to the task", an idea that naturally extends itself to "match the medium to the audience", which necessitates understanding that audiences have different purposes!

We see this all the time with the epatient movement. Motivation drives engagement. If you have a deeply motivated patient, that patient will be likely to read more, read longer pieces, watch longer videos, learn new words, and generally work harder to figure out problems and learn what they want to know. I observed this yesterday when I was livetweeting a campus event on migraine. The Twitter "viewers" were enormously more active than usual for one of these events. Migraineurs are highly motivated. Pain is highly motivating, as people really want it to stop. The event was about a new app ( to help migraineurs collect information (think #quantself ) about their pain and use it in conversation with their healthcare team, also feeding information to the researchers to build a large database of information on migraine pain that can potentially be used to help. This is starting the process of gathering #bigdata on migraines.

Now, let's take a sec and think about video viewing motivations and audiences. Videos for learning. Students are willing to watch long lectures. So are folk working on building new skillsets for future promotion or job change. It doesn't mean they wouldn't prefer the information to be terse and focused, but they'll listen. Students like video lectures because they can speed up the playback and see the same lecture in 2/3s the time that it would take to attend class. People with learning disabilities or memory problems may prefer to slow them down or repeat parts. Then you have hobbyists or people with strong personal motivations, including our previously mentioned epatients.

Aside from length, there is also the type and purpose of the video. Student teachers watch long videos of other students teaching (or themselves) and analyse them down to the second. Video as data. Patients, for example new amputees, might well be very interested in seeing detailed lifestyle videos from other patients in similar situations. Something really short may simply frustrate them because they can't really get a sense of context or flow for how the other person strategically integrates accommodations into their life.

Video as story or performance or art. Obviously, people watch long videos. The Silver Lining was overtly intended as a health education video of sorts, and had several Oscar nominations.

I'm sure I've missed some. Basically, I'm suggesting the 3 minute limit applies to a very specific purpose and audience type, where you are trying to engage a new audience with low motivation. That is very likely our largest audience, but it is far from being our only audience.

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Posted by @LeeAase, Feb 26, 2013

Great points, Patricia...really well said!


Posted by @pfanderson, Feb 26, 2013

Thanks, Lee! I'm thinking that was long enough and of general interest, and I might actually revise it for my blog.


Posted by @nickdawson, Feb 27, 2013

Interesting topic to think about, thanks for posting this Lee.

There are parallels in other online media. For instance, some of my favorite blogs are tumbler sites like Daring Fireball which are masters of the 100 word (or less posts). And others, like the Accidental Economist, regularly turn out 5,000 word essays.

Similarly, I listen to an hour long podcast on my commute to work, or a 10 minute NPR story while walking to lunch.

I guess what that leads me to believe is there is room for a 'both and' —both short and long form videos. And I think your insight is spot on - for the right condition, there is an audience who wants long form, in depth info. For general awareness, short form may cast a wider net.


Posted by @scottscowcroft, Feb 27, 2013

This discussion is all too familiar to me, having managed a Public Access TV Station for nearly 20 years during the 1980's and '90's. Back then, I'd encourage citizen producers to consider longer programs, explaining that any topic could survive the small screen and simple production values given enough interest by the intended audience. What could not be compromised however was good lighting and audio.

As to the long vs short video discussion, I'd like to add a third category: Very high quality short animations to convey critically important information. Animations can condense an enormous amount of time and content in a busy world. Very high quality animations can do so in a an entertaining and memorable way. The gold standard for this genre are Virgin Air's Safety animations.

Added to the usually collateral, I can imagine high quality animations for pre and post surgery instructions, maybe falls prevention strategies for frail elderly upon discharge from the hospital, even an information packed lifestyle/coping strategies animation for amputees -- all highly motivated audiences who could benefit from a quick/memorable and information dense animation. Your thoughts?



Posted by @cardoso, Feb 27, 2013

Our organization is about to launch 8 videos covering different stroke topics. When asked what the length should be, my response was "whatever it takes to educate the patients or family members". The videos are in final stages but the average so far is between 14 and 30 minutes. They cover topics like speech, swallowing, diet etc and much like some of you mentioned above, the viewers will appreciate getting the tools they need to move forward.

This discussion really caught my attention because this is all fresh for us. I registered today and was so glad to find the site.

A little shout-out to Scott, health care and social media is such small world... glad to see you here too.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. Have a great day.

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