#MDigitalLife is a WCG program designed to learn from and to showcase physicians who are blazing new trails in the digital world – changing the way that medicine is practiced and better health is realized. You can find previous posts here.
“Twitter is like a cocktail party … you don’t just want to talk about medical things all the time.”
– Dr. Jennifer Dyer
Dr. Jennifer Dyer loves working with kids – and she maintains a childlike curiosity and passion for learning in everything she does. All it takes is one look at her twitter profile – @endogoddess – to know that she’s no stuffed-shirt, dull clinician. At any given time, you might see tweets about fashion, food, New York – or yes, health and medicine. Trained as a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Texas – San Antonio, she always just found the kids to be more “fun and funny” to be around. She has always been motivated by getting to know her patients well, and building a truly personal relationship with them. And she’s found that maintaining a basis of fun, funny and factual is the key to good health information and healthy practices.
After medical school, Jen moved to Columbus, Ohio to take a combined clinical and research role with the Ohio State University (she says it more like, “THE Ohio State University”). While at OSU, she had a chance to work on a Masters program in Public Health, and it was a revelation to her. She found that she was able to understand the healthcare system from a completely different perspective – and realized how important it was for doctors to be able to understand the context that wraps around every doctor-patient relationship. She also found that she was able to exercise her creativity in ways that she hadn’t been able to do in a traditional clinical/research setting.
It was also during her MPH coursework that she began to dive deep into the concept of health literacy, and to understand how critical it was to develop deeper health literacy in the US. Jen, like many other doctors, was beginning to realize that her patients wanted and needed more access to quality information. They were willing to search and conduct their own (primarily online) research, but it was hard to find information that was really trustworthy.
In the course of conducting a study on health literacy in early 2009, Jen went to a conference in Santa Fe, NM – a conference that was focused on healthcare communications, and the then-new phenomenon of social media. At that conference, she ran into an old Texas acquaintance, Dr. Bryan Vartabedian. He was talking about the ways that physicians could use twitter to connect more effectively with each other and with their patients. As a born explorer, Jen signed up on the spot. She was able to grasp its potential immediately – but also feared that using it effectively could be a significant time drain. In order to stay motivated, she’d need for her twitter account to be about more than just clinical medicine. And thus, @endogoddess was born. Her twitter account, even three years later, is a perfect mix of her personal and professional interests – though rarely if ever a vehicle to convey personal/private information.
“My mission is to provide patients with evidence-based, medical facts. That’s what people ask of me and expect from me – and it’s something that every doctor can provide.”
Dr. Jennifer Dyer
The more connected Jen became, the more she felt she was able to help her patients. She became incredibly tuned-in to health-related programs in Columbus, and was able to use her presence in social media (in addition to her practice) to share that information with the people who’d benefit from it. She’s found twitter to be a great place to communicate with that broader health audience – people who are interested, broadly speaking in learning more about diabetes, pediatrics and endocrinology. Like most doctors, she’s regularly pinged by her friends and family about medical questions – the kind of data, information and insights they were having trouble finding on their own. Armed with that solid understanding of her audience’s needs, she’s been able to provide content online that links her audience with the information they need. Twitter allows her to do that with an audience that includes – but extends well beyond – that core group of family and friends. And she has a rule – whenever she’s asked a question on twitter, she responds. That response often points people either to an existing online resource, or encourages a dialog with their physician (it never strays into sharing private information or medical advice per se) – but the point is that she always responds.
She was quick to point out that, if she met someone in the supermarket who asked whether they should be taking aspirin or tylenol, she couldn’t possibly answer that question. She doesn’t know them, their medical history or their needs. But she can often help that person to ask the right questions of their personal physician so they can find the answer to their question. And twitter works in pretty much the same way.
The last year has been marked by some pretty radical changes in Jen’s professional life. Through the course of another study at OSU, Jen was really interested in how she might be able to use digital and social media to stay connected with patients – particularly diabetes patients for whom treatment adherence has especially important consequences – between appointments. Her study was beautifully simple. She created an SMS-based communication protocol with her patients. Over a three-month period, she would text-message a group of patients on a weekly basis. The nature of the communication was as follows:
– standard greeting
– personal question based on their individual relationship (e.g., an icebreaker that re-establishes Jen as someone whom they know and trust)
– a quick question or two about their proactive diabetes management and their results. “How are your sugars?” “How often are you testing?”
This simple approach resulted in measurable improvements in patient outcomes – and led to her drawing significant attention both locally and nationally. She started getting regular media coverage and speaking at conferences. And she’s now decided to take her findings and to use them to help more diabetes patients – to scale her approach exponentially. Jen has now started a business – Duet Health – with a local Columbus developer, and is in the business of developing mobile health applications. Her first, the EndoGoddess app, made it into the iTunes store this past fall, and is doing well. It stands out from other diabetes apps (which tend to be limited to journaling) by embedding the motivational model developed by Stanford professor and researcher BJ Fogg. The EndoGoddess app, targeted for younger diabetics, also includes a rewards-and-incentives program that is really interesting. By complying with their treatment, patients are awarded points that can be redeemed for iTunes credit … and that credit is funded by their families, friends, or anyone who has a vested interest in their adherence to treatment. Through Duet Health, she has also started to create content modules for hospitals that are designed to be “prescribed” (literally – the modules are listed on prescription pads) by doctors as patients are released from the hospital.
Today those modules cover topics such as physical therapy, orthopedics, and pregnancy, although there are over 20 modules either in production or on the roadmap. The hospital and its staff of health care professionals are thrilled … for the first time, they feel as though they’re able to have a more lasting impact with their patients by creating a mechanism for interaction (through trusted content) between appointments. And it’s dead simple for the docs and nurses. There are no instruction manuals required; just a simple, pre-written “prescription” for content in the patient’s release packet.
The future is looking bright for Duet Health, which has effectively tapped into the wealth of young talent gathered around OSU. They’re now working on more sophisticated apps that are designed to be a portal with properties similar to personal health records, but with embedded social media functionality and focused on helping users to connect with other users who are in a similar stage of their patient journey. And it’s her feeling that in October, when hospitals start to be penalized for readmissions, there is going to be a significant uptick in the need for the work that she and her colleagues are doing.
Jen has spoken at the mHealth summit for the past three years. In her words, the mHealth space has evolved tremendously during that time – from “Is this going to work?” to “This is going to work – but what’s the business model?” For my money, Dr. Dyer is well on her way to nailing that one.
How to connect with Dr. Dyer:
Her Company: Duet Health
Her blog: http://endogoddess.blogspot.com/
Jennifer Dyer’s Recommended Network of “MDigitals”:
Dr. Mike Sevilla: https://twitter.com/#!/drmikesevilla
Dr. Bryan Vartabedian: https://twitter.com/#!/doctor_v
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: https://twitter.com/#!/seattlemamadoc
Dr. Kevin Pho: https://twitter.com/#!/kevinmd