Emergency room patients in Fresno are becoming famous.
In medical circles across the United States and worldwide, their voices are being heard by doctors and nurses.
Over the past year, patients at Community Regional Medical Center agreed to be recorded for educational podcasts produced by Dr. Jessica Mason, an emergency room physician and clinical instructor at UCSF-Fresno.
The podcasts have subscribers in 35 countries. One of the latest episodes had 25,000 hits after only five days. Some have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.
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The use of social media in medical education – from Twitter to podcasts to videos – is growing as medical professionals find they are easy and efficient ways to learn, stay up-to-date on research and make connections. But the Fresno-based podcasts stand out. Patients, in their own words, are bringing medical cases to life.
“I think we’re the first ones to have done it like this,” Mason says of the central role that the patients’ voices play in the medical education podcasts. More typically for educational programs, medical professionals paraphrase patient case histories for discussion.
I think we’re the first ones to have done it like this.
Dr. Jessica Mason, Fresno emergency medicine doctor and podcast producer
Eight episodes of EM:RAP C3, a podcast for emergency medicine clinicians, have been produced in Fresno, and three more are in post-production. Each begins with a patient’s story.
“You’ll hear from a patient what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing in their words,” Mason says.
A recent episode about arrhythmia, a condition in which the heart beats with an irregular or abnormal rhythm, begins with a patient describing being in his front yard when his heart began racing. He made it to his front porch and sat for awhile before going inside to get some water. The man says, “I went and sat in the front room, and that’s when my wife called the ambulance.”
The medical lecture is enhanced by the patient’s story, Mason says. “There’s no better way to learn it than from hearing it from him … that is a real patient in the ER talking to me.”
Mason, 31, who works at Community Regional Medical Center’s emergency department and graduated June 8 with a fellowship in medical education from UCSF-Fresno, is fast becoming known as an innovator for her use of patient voices in podcasts and videos.
Besides the C3 program, she incorporates patients in another podcast that she co-hosts, “This Won’t Hurt A Bit,” a fast-paced, easygoing production for the curious health consumer that also has a loyal doctor and nurse following.
“People have done some patient interviews here and there, but no one is doing it as extensively or as well as Jess is doing it,” says Dr. Mel Herbert, the owner and CEO of EM:RAP, a medical education company that he started in 2001. Mason is the company’s chief organizing officer as well as being a director of several programs.
“People love to hear stories – especially stories so well presented,” Herbert says.
“Some of these stories really give the physicians and nurses a real insight into the patients and the diseases,” he says. “And they can have a profound effect on how doctors treat patients.”
Fresno brings it together
Herbert says three components are necessary for a successful patient-centered medical education podcast: Someone who has the interest and skills to produce it, patients who are willing to share their stories and a hospital that is willing to participate.
“It’s exceedingly rare for those all to come together,” Herbert says. But that has happened in Fresno.
Mason has the theatrical talent and the medical expertise to make podcasts and videos. Prior to earning a medical degree at the University of Southern California, Mason was a theater major in college. And in high school and college, she performed as a ventriloquist in comedy clubs with a vivacious blond dummy named Daphne.
Daphne’s been in storage for years, but Mason says the podcasts and videos allow her to combine medicine with entertainment and education. “And where all three of those meet, I feel like that’s home for me.”
Mason also has a theater ally. Her husband, Dave Mason, has a degree in theater arts. He is an audio producer of the C3 program and a co-host on “This Won’t Hurt A Bit.” He does the lighting, sound and filming for a video series Mason produces called EM:RAP HD, which gives key steps for doing a medical procedure in four minutes or less.
Dave Mason says he has a lot to learn, but the quality of the productions have improved since the first releases. “For five minutes of footage, it can take nine hours,” he says. “We’re trying to make it look right.”
Mason says the patient voices have enhanced the podcasts.
I can’t tell you enough how unique this has been and how incredible the patients in Fresno have been.
Dr. Mel Herbert, owner and CEO of EM:RAP
Herbert had encouraged her to talk to patients, and about a year ago Mason got the nerve to approach them in the emergency department. She expected rejection. “These are very personal moments for them.” But she discovered Fresno patients wanted to help.
“This is one reason I love being here. We have wonderful patients,” she says.
Herbert says the willingness of patients to be a part of the podcasts amazed him. “I can’t tell you enough how unique this has been and how incredible the patients in Fresno have been.”
For busy emergency medicine doctors, the podcasts and videos are accessible any time of day – or night.
They’re a fun way to stay current on medical literature and guidelines, says Katie Holmes, an emergency medicine doctor and core faculty-clerkship director at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. “I don’t have to wait for an annual conference in Las Vegas or New York or for a monthly journal that comes in snail mail.”
Holmes has organized gatherings of medical residents to listen to Mason’s C3 podcasts and she had a live FaceTime chat with Mason during one of the meetings.
Mason is engaging and the patients are inspiring, Holmes says. “The patients in Fresno should know that you’re not only a part of education for future ER physicians, but you’re also there for your community.”
The patient response has been so positive that Mason has been able to expand her storytelling to live lectures that include slide presentations of patients along with their voices. “I call it narrative learning,” she says.
She will be giving a narrative lecture in a couple of weeks in Berlin to 2,000 doctors and other medical providers at a Social Media and Critical Care conference. “I’m a little nervous,” she says.
It helps recruit doctors
None of the social media education would have been possible, however, without the support and collaboration of the University of California at San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program and Community Regional Medical Center.
“I‘m here in Fresno because there’s such a wonderful spirit of education here,” Mason says. “The things I do here, I don’t think I would be able to do in a lot of other places.”
UCSF-Fresno medical residents have been an integral part of the productions. On Wednesday, first-year emergency medicine resident Whitney Johnson helped in the filming of an EM RAP HD episode at the university’s clinical skills laboratory. Johnson handed materials to Mason and scurried around looking for plastic tubing for the production.
Mason is re-engineering the way medical education is taught and people learn, says Dr. Jim Comes, chief of emergency medicine at UCSF-Fresno and vice-chair of the emergency medicine department at the UCSF main campus. “This is the way people are learning. They listen to a podcast and then they can come to a conference and we can talk about it.”
Mason’s unique incorporation of patient voices in her podcasts makes learning more personal and humanistic, he says.
And the attention the podcasts are getting is good news for Fresno.
“They put Fresno in a very favorable light as we move forward in medical education,” Comes says. “The more press we get about our training programs on a national scale brings people and more attention to the Valley. And we need doctors. This is a great way for me to recruit more doctors to the Valley.”