Many medical students know "The Legend of Once," in which a fabled Hispanic patient interprets the instructions on his prescription bottle - which read take once daily - to mean "take eleven daily" because the Spanish word for eleven is once, pronounced ón-say.
While this is just a legend, avoidable illnesses, hospital admissions and readmissions happen every day in real life because of poor understanding of health information, also known as low health literacy.
Under the Affordable Care Act and new Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement procedures, hospitals and health care providers will be held increasingly accountable for preventable hospital admissions. Some are already ramping up patient education efforts using a tool that medical students have long found effective for learning complex health concepts. 3D animations are cropping up on hospital websites, Facebook and YouTube pages, and on doctors' iPads in exam rooms across the country.
According to the American Medical Association, how well a person understands health information – prescription bottles, brochures, health providers' written and verbal instructions – can tell us more about their health than age, income, employment status, educational level or race.
People with low health literacy are less likely to use preventive care and take medications correctly and more likely to be hospitalized and have poor disease outcomes, studies show. All of which is costing our health care system.
One estimate puts preventable hospital readmissions due to low health literacy at $17 billion a year. Researchers estimate total avoidable health-literacy related costs at $106 to $238 billion a year.
3D animation has been an educational tool for health sciences students for some time – from the CD-ROMS of the 1990s containing rotating images of transected organs to today's mobile apps that bring such images to the palm of a medical student's hand. Studies show that three-dimensional simulations improve learning and garner positive feedback among students.
That's why many health care providers are bringing 3D animation to their patients.
"Today's medical technology is extremely complex, and animation is a powerful way to help non-medical professionals grasp the intricacies of modern medical technology, as well as those of the human body itself," said Ken Bearden, director of Integrated Marketing Communications at Detroit Medical Center. The hospital licenses 3D medical animations to embed in their own videos and post on their website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.
Metro-Atlanta-based Gwinnett Medical Center also licenses 3D animations for use as a patient education tool. Patients watch an animation while hospitalized, and then explain the concepts back to the provider before discharge. The patient leaves the hospital with both written instructions and a link to the animation. Providers hope the program, still in its pilot phase, will increase patient adherence to recommendations and reduce readmissions.
Patient safety and quality care are hospitals' top goals, and enhanced communication through 3D animation can help them reach those goals. But many hospital marketing departments are finding that the benefits of 3D animations don't end there.
Hospital marketing videos containing 3D animation frequently attract more viewers on social media sites like YouTube than traditional videos featuring only patients, hospital staff or procedures. When a user filters videos by popularity on a hospital's YouTube channel, those containing 3D animations typically jump to the top.
Top Five Reasons Hospitals Incorporate 3D Animation into Their Marketing Videos
Their popularity may be attributed to the unique form. Because 3D animations show more detail of diseases, conditions and treatments than traditional videos, patients view them as more educational. And with the increasing popularity of animated movies by Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks over the past 20 years, viewers associate 3D animations with higher production values and entertainment.
"The animated videos have a different look to them. Viewers are attracted to the 3D and to the high tech aspect of it," said Brian Mulligan, director of integrated marketing at North Shore LIJ Medical Center.
The high-tech look of a video will impact a patient's attitude towards the hospital. The increased views lead to increased "likes," shares, retweets and comments – comments that give rise to virtual health education communities and support groups that hospitals can put their names on.
"Education helps make [patients] better informed and makes our partnership stronger," Mulligan said. "When we are the provider of that information, it reflects positively on us."