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3D Medical Imaging & Animation Are Changing Healthcare

Medical science is constantly evolving. New techniques, procedures and technologies are introduced, adapted, perfected and finally adopted, helping advance the art and science of medicine continually. Regardless of the nature of such changes, the goal remains the same: to improve patient outcomes, advance research and enhance the teaching of best practices.
Three-dimensional (3D) medical imaging — and 3D medical animation — are examples of such technological advances. Each has quickly become indispensable to the practice — and teaching — of modern medicine. For example, 3D medical animation is now used for everything from enhancing medical research to improving patient education and compliance; to helping pharmaceutical and medical device makers market their products more effectively.

3D Imagery and Medicine

Since its widespread introduction in the early 1970s, computerized axial tomography (CT) scan has become an indispensable tool in medicine. Of course, CT is a natural extension of older X-ray imaging technology. The advent of computers with sufficient computing power facilitated the development of this groundbreaking technology, which integrates numerous two-dimensional images of internal structures and tissues into a composite, virtual-3D set of images. The resulting scan allows doctors to take a virtual visual tour of a patient’s body.

This has obviously been an enormous boon to medicine, as the human body exists in three — not two — dimensions. Subsequent 3D imaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scan and other options have greatly enhanced our ability to diagnose conditions non-invasively and formulate appropriate approaches to treatment.

Just as 3D imaging was a natural fit for the advancement of medical diagnosis and treatment, 3D animation has proven equally useful for other aspects of medicine. The reasons are similar in both instances. Human anatomy, physiology and biochemistry are complex subjects. Teaching — and learning — about these complicated subjects and processes can be equally challenging.

3D Animation as a Tool for Education and Marketing

Educators have long relied on medical illustration to illuminate some of these intricacies. Though some of the same technological advances that made 3D imaging possible have also enabled the development of insightful, informative and instructional 3D animations. Modern medical animation represents a harmonious marriage between the art of traditional medical illustration and modern computer design and animation techniques.

By exploiting these tools, medical animators are able to bring challenging information to life. Indeed, 3D medical animation is virtually indispensable to today’s competitive medical device marketers and pharmaceutical salespeople for the rapid communication of complex concepts, procedures, devices and/or mechanisms of action.

Medical animation is also increasingly common — and essential — in the classroom. Research suggests, for example, that 3D animation used in the instruction of complex subjects, such as embryonic development, improves long-term retention among medical students.

Educators advocate the teaching of complicated subjects, such as cellular and molecular biology, through the use of medical animation as well. It’s easy to understand why 3D imaging is proving so crucial, when you consider that even microscopic structures, such as proteins, exist in three dimensions, not two.

Improving on the Past — Looking Toward the Future

Indeed, the 3D structures of proteins determine their functionality and other properties. As such, they cannot be represented readily in 2D without accepting serious compromises. Only 3D provides the appropriate format for adequately representing these structures without sacrificing key information — information that underlies the amazing utility and versatility of these molecular workhorse molecules.

3D animation as a marketing aid is an obvious choice for medical device makers. Physicians and administrators are constantly bombarded with demands for their time and attention. Concise medical animations are an easy way for marketers to convey the intricacies — and advantages—of their products, quickly and effectively. Properly rendered medical animations can illuminate challenging processes or procedures far more quickly than would be possible using words, text or graphics alone.

It seems clear that 3D medical animation is not just a natural extension of techniques — such as 2D medical illustration, and the creation of physical 3D models, which have existed for centuries. Rather, it’s also the future of medicine. Proponents note that 3D animation, aided by computer modeling and other techniques, is an increasingly indispensable tool for teaching, patient education, planning of complex surgeries, and the marketing of drugs and devices.
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Marketing Your Healthcare Organization

In the healthcare industry, marketing is a must. Whether you work at a health system, hospital, clinic, or physician practice, they all need marketing. Changing audiences and new technologies, however, mean that healthcare marketing needs to evolve. Every actionable marketing strategy should include a few staple components that you can build around to create a stronger patient base and improve the bottom line. Consider these four core marketing practices that you need to implement, now.

1. Get a Website
Studies show that 72% of internet users go online to look for healthcare information. Establishing a website for your practice or facility enhances your internet presence and makes you easy to find in a local search. Your website should provide practical information about your healthcare organization, such as physical location and contact data. It should list key services and give patients information about the staff, especially the physicians. Any patient searching for a new clinic or doctor in the area should be able to go to your website and get all the information they need to make a choice.
Consider adding a blog to your website as well. A blog helps increase your online authority and improves patient health literacy, too.

2. Go Multi-Channel
A strong website is a good start, but having multiple marketing channels is just as essential. A multi-channel social media approach to marketing your organization ensures that you reach your audience no matter what social networking site they prefer. Start with the mainstream social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Setting up business accounts on these networks will give your patients a place to communicate with you and share that connection with others. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Survey shows that 92% of consumers trust referrals from friends and families.
You can further leverage social media networks by providing wellness information and promoting the latest healthcare news (follow the 80/20 rule of social media content). With every like and share, you increase your organization’s internet presence and establish your business as a medical authority.

3. Provide Animation
One of the biggest challenges healthcare marketers face is finding a way to keep things fresh and engaging. Animation is the perfect tool to keep your online audience engaged. Video has been the “king of content” for years now, and animation is highly engaging because it is visually interesting. Using animations has the added bonus of improving health literacy, as well, by explaining complex medical concepts in a way that most people can understand.

You can use animations across multiple channels. Upload them to your YouTube channel, embed the videos in your web pages to explain your different services, or convert them into GIFs for Facebook.

4. Focus on the Metrics
Healthcare is a business, so treat it like one. Businesses rely on data to improve their marketing strategies and build their brand. Marketing creates measurable results that you can track to see what works and what doesn’t. Measure the return on investment for different campaigns and assets like paid ads and social media promotions. Monitor your engagement rates and pages views to see what channels get the most attention and find ways to expand your efforts.

Healthcare marketing is just another way to service patients while building your healthcare business. How effective it is will depend on how well you manage it.

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World-leading Parathyroid Surgeon Discusses Importance of Medical Animation
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Physician calls investment in video “one of the most important business decisions we have ever made.”

Jim Norman, MD, is one of the world’s leading experts on parathyroid disease. He and his team perform around 3,400 parathyroid surgeries per year at the Norman Parathyroid Center in Florida. Dr. Norman is a big believer in using animation to educate his patients. Since 2012, he has used animation one-on-one with his patients, as well as on his YouTube channel and his website, and has seen great results. We sat down with Dr. Norman and asked him a few questions:

Dr. Norman, what made you decide to use custom medical animation for patient education?
Our practice is limited to parathyroid surgery only, but that’s a challenge when 99% of people don’t even know they have parathyroid glands. We operate on things that nobody has ever heard of! Thus, one of the biggest tasks we face is educating patients (and to a lesser degree, physicians) on everything about parathyroid glands and hyperparathyroidism in 5 minutes or less.

To start with the most basic concept—we all have four parathyroid glands, and parathyroid glands are the regulators of calcium metabolism. We had to help them understand the central importance calcium plays into our overall health and how we feel. From there we needed to introduce the concept that one of those little parathyroid glands could become a tumor. The next complex concept to teach was how a small parathyroid gland tumor in the neck can cause terrible problems in distant places throughout the body; with the bones, the heart, the kidneys, the nervous system, etc. It is a novel and complex issue for many people to grasp quickly that a little gland in their neck (that they didn’t know they had) is why they have lost the joy of life and their body is falling apart.

We have been explaining this with pictures and words for years, and have even included videos of me discussing hyperparathyroidism during a lecture. But we needed something more—something that did the teaching for us. Something that made our message clear. We needed a video that followed the development of a parathyroid tumor in the neck: it needed to cover the tumor producing too much parathyroid hormone and releasing calcium out of the bones, as well as following that calcium to other organs of the body and showing how it caused havoc.

You uploaded the animation to YouTube. Why?
We embedded our video on our website (parathyroid.com) but we decided to put it on YouTube because it is the number 2 search engine behind Google. Over time, people have become more and more accustomed to learning via videos. YouTube is the world’s repository of videos, and any business that is customer facing should have their videos online.

Can you tell us about the success you’ve had using animation?
We are by far the world’s leaders in parathyroid surgery. A second-rate video would not be helpful—in fact, a poorly done video could have reflected poorly on us as a company and as experts in this field of medicine. The final product from Nucleus has been an overwhelming success. It has been translated into 5 languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Chinese), and each of those videos is the most popular video for the “parathyroid” family of search terms. The extremely well done animation tells a story that allow patients to understand their complex medical problem and proceed with confidence.

Obviously, we are educating hundreds of thousands of patients per year world-wide—and thus helping them with their health issues—without ever meeting them. But when some of these patients do decide to come to Tampa, Florida to have us operate on them, every aspect of the encounter is easier and smoother because they have watched the video and they understand what is going on.

Posted in Medical Illustration/Animation, Patient Education, Provider Productivity, Social MediaTagged 3d animation, content marketing, health information, health literacy, healthcare, medical animation, parathyroid, Patient Education, patient engagement, patient satisfaction, surgeon surgery, thyroid, video, video marketing, youtube, youtube marketing.
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