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How A 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' Video Improved Asthma Treatment

Doctors and staff at a British hospital were doing a lousy job of treating patients in the midst of life-threatening asthma attacks. Less than half of the doctors made use of asthma treatment guidelines. One-third of them didn't even know the asthma guidelines existed.

That all changed when one of the doctors posted a homemade music video on YouTube.

"I see you, the only one who can save her," croons Tapas Mukherjee, a skinny 32-year-old physician at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester. "But you won't save her, when so much is left undone."

Mukherjee is no Bruno Mars. But odds are this is the first time you've seen someone sing and dance his way through an asthma treatment protocol with lyrics like "Aim for 94 percent to 98 percent sats now," (referring to the patient's blood oxygen level).

Cute, but did it do the patients any good?

When the hospital ran another survey two months after the video was released, all of the doctors polled said they knew about the asthma guidelines, and 80 percent said they were using them. They also scored much better on knowledge of specifics, including those target sats (up from 57 percent to 91 percent, thank you very much).

The hospital didn't report changes in patient care, but adherence to treatment protocols is considered a key measure of quality. Mukherjee presented the results this week at the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress in Barcelona.

Mukherjee chose the tune from the hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by the band Deep Blue Something because he knew it would resonate with the demographics of the hospital staff.

"The nice thing is that people did the work for us once we got it out there," he says of the video, which he shot on his phone. Staffers passed the video around on their phones; it couldn't be viewed on the hospital network because it blocks social media like YouTube. "It didn't cost us anything to do the video, and it didn't cost us anything to distribute it."

The notion's not as goofy as it may seem. Medical students have a long tradition of writing songs about the mind-numbing mountains of data they have to memorize. Those performances have started migrating to YouTube. (Here's a video from students at the University of Alberta that will get you up to speed on second-degree AV block, which causes irregular heartbeat.)

Putting words to music makes them much easier to remember, as anyone who has "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious" stuck in the head can attest.

Mukherjee's social media experiment is a bit different because it's aimed at directly affecting patient care.The effort has won recognition from British and international medical groups.

For his part, Mukherjee hopes to continue with the musical tutorials; he's working on one about administration of oxygen, which can seriously injure patients if mismanaged. But he notes, "I have to balance that with the fact that I am a very junior doctor in the respiratory ward."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.