Albert Lopez was lifting weights in 2009 when he first noticed the pain in his hip.
"It was only on leg movements with a large range of motion," Lopez, now thirty-five, recalls. But within a year, the pain impacted the once-active weight lifter's ability to tie his shoes, dress, sit or stand.
"I often avoided something as simple as walking downstairs to make lunch because I didn't want to deal with the pain," he said.
A joint disease called pigmented villonodular synovitis was eating away at the cartilage in Lopez's hip joint. His doctor recommended a total hip joint replacement. Though the pain impacted most of his routine activities, the thought of surgery brought little relief.
"This was my first major surgery. I felt nervous about it."
It was a 3D animation of hip joint replacement surgery, produced by Nucleus Medical Media and posted on YouTube, that helped ease Lopez's mind. He commented on the site, "Finally getting this done on my left hip in two weeks, I'm so excited!"
Patients are partners with physicians in their care. Education helps make them better informed and makes that partnership stronger.Brian Mulligan
Lopez joins a growing number of health information seekers who turn to 3D medical animations to understand their diseases, conditions and treatment.
"I told my doctor about watching the video, and he was very thorough and explained everything I needed to know about it," Lopez said. "The day of surgery, I was prepared and had enough knowledge to where I was comfortable."
Like Lopez, 80 percent of Internet users search the web for health information. That's about 60 percent of U.S. adults. Evidence suggests 3D animations win the attention of this audience over videos showing live operations, physician interviews or patient experiences.
That's been North Shore - Long Island Jewish Health System's experience. In 2010, the hospital system licensed two animations from Nucleus Medical Media to use in their own promotional videos. Today, out of North Shore's nearly 200 total YouTube videos, the two containing Nucleus animations rank first and second for views, with nearly 50,000 views combined.
"The use of quality animation helps grab and hold the viewer's attention by showing them what's involved in an interesting, engaging way," said Brian Mulligan, Assistant Vice President of Public Relations for Northshore – LIJ.
More than simply grabbing attention, studies show that 3D animations are more effective than text and 2D illustrations alone in communicating health information.
Medical animation, compared to printed materials, improves patient understanding of procedures and potential complications; increases trust in medical professionals; reduces anxiety; and increases the feeling of readiness for the procedure, according to the results of a 2002 randomized controlled trial published in The Surgeon, a German journal.
Improvement in these areas is associated with meeting new government-mandated requirements for patient satisfaction as a condition of cost reimbursement, while improving adherence to doctor recommendations may reduce preventable hospital readmissions – a problem costing Medicare an estimated 17 billion dollars a year.
Hospitals and health care systems incorporating 3D animation into their online marketing see higher levels of patient engagement and an increased perception of quality care.
"Patients are partners with physicians in their care. Education helps make them better informed and makes that partnership stronger. When we are the provider of that information, it reflects positively on us," Mulligan said.
Detroit Medical Center's Ken Bearden agrees. "We hope providing these videos will encourage potential patients, both locally and across the nation, to recognize Detroit Medical Center as a destination for specialty care," said Bearden, corporate director of integrated marketing communications.
"With over one million views between our own website and our YouTube channel, we're confident that our videos are having an impact on our brand and on the way people view and understand health care," Bearden said.
Lopez recognizes the impact of 3D animation, too. "I think it's great that there are videos for anyone to watch to get a clear idea of what is involved in a surgical procedure. They are very informative and I'm glad I was able to gain the knowledge before the surgery."
Now two months out of surgery, Lopez is already doing more than he was able to just before his hip joint replacement procedure. "My physical therapist gave me the ok to go back and exercise when I feel that I can do it without pain. That should be in a month or two. I'm very close to the point where I am not restricted from anything."