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Five questions with Mayo Clinic social media chief Lee Aase

Mayo’s social-media chief  says that social media is no longer used just for marketing purposes — it now has a place in medical education and medical research.

Attendance at this year’s Health Care Social Media Summit, which kicked off Monday and continues through Wednesday at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has more than doubled from last year. And many of the summit’s 375 attendees have been keeping the Twitter stream #mayoregan flowing with something like 100 tweets an hour.

That’s because more healthcare organizations are taking notice of what others are doing with social media and seeing the need to collaborate on new ways to implement social media throughout the healthcare system, according to the director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, Lee Aase.

Aase is part of the team that has helped Mayo Clinic establish itself as the poster child for healthcare social media. In the past year, Mayo has launched its own social networking site that has attracted more than 7,000 users, created Spanish-language Facebook and Twitter accounts, and encouraged its doctors to get on board with social media. Today, he took some time after giving his keynote address at the conference to answer some questions about what’s new and important in healthcare social media.

What is the biggest challenge facing healthcare marketers in using social media?

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“If people are only thinking of these as marketing tools, they’re missing opportunities,” Aase said. “That’s probably part of the reason for the growth this year.”

Social media is no longer used just for marketing purposes — it now has a place in medical education and medical research. “These tools aren’t just about building market shares, but they’re about helping patients and connecting providers,” he said.

Part of the challenge for organizations is developing a careful social media strategy that actually supports what they want to accomplish, rather than just going all out on every social media platform available. Organizations should look at what they want to accomplish through non-social media means and then spend some time thinking about which social media tools could help them reach those goals, Aase suggested.

What is the biggest strength when it comes to using social media in healthcare?

Social media has made it possible for in-depth communication to happen among parties who have similar medical interests. “The thing about healthcare is that no one cares about it until they get sick, and then they get interested in it deeply,” Aase said.

Patient-initiated research, a panel topic at the conference, was previously unthinkable without social media. But now, Dr. Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist at Mayo, is leading a study on a rare heart condition that was initiated by a woman in Virginia who turned to social media for help in understanding her condition. She organized a group of 12 patients with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) in four different countries, and Dr. Hayes compiled their data for a pilot study. Now Mayo is collecting information from 200 more patients and conducting two bigger studies on SCAD.

What’s the next big thing Mayo will do with social media?

In the next few weeks, Mayo will roll out another mobile app to connect patients with its online community. But its priority from now until February, according to Aase, will be promoting heart health through a social media campaign called “Know Your Numbers,” launched this morning at the conference. It combines a YouTube video, a Facebook app and a contest to raise awareness leading up to American Heart Month.

What does Mayo get out of hosting this conference?

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“It’s keeping with our organization’s DNA,” Aase said. ’For over 100 years we know we’ve been in a not-so-easy-to-get-to location, and yet our founders said, we’re not going to let that be a barrier to having an impact.’ Having a reason for lots of people to physically come to Mayo Clinic is a great opportunity, he said, but it’s also about helping others learn about how to take advantage of the social media tools available and to create connections that will ultimately help patients.

What’s the coolest application you’ve seen of healthcare social media not done by Mayo?

Aase cited a few popular YouTube videos, including one of a dog running a half-marathon for cancer research and another of the da Vinci surgery robot folding a paper airplane the size of a penny, that he thought were interesting. Although you can never predict when a video will go viral, if it does, it can have a real impact (Envoy, anyone?).