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Should Hospitals Provide Live Twitter Streams Of Surgical Procedures?

Should hospitals send twitter “updates” on patients undergoing complicated catheter ablation procedures using “pre-approved” scripted story lines?

In a far corner of the operating room Thursday, a Web producer and a cardiac expert with St. Vincent’s huddled over a laptop. They chronicled the procedure largely from a script that Oza had signed off on a day earlier.

The procedure uses radio frequencies to scar parts of the heart. The scars block signals sent from a quartet of veins in the left atrium, signals that cause the heart to go haywire. The entire procedure is done using a catheter inserted into a patient’s groin while the patient is anesthetized.

Given several hours of time to fill and only a page and a half of script, Candy Bowen, the Web producer, sprinkled in descriptions about atrial fibrillation and gave health tips. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, Peacock’s family watched the updates on a wide-screen television.

“It’s some reassurance that everything’s going well,” Melissa Peacock said.

A few minutes before 6 p.m., this message popped up on Twitter: “Mr. P says Hi, and is responsive.” And then a minute later: “Mr. P has been informed that his family has been updated. And he’s smiling.”

I’m all for education using social networking, but when doctors and technicians tweet live (even if it’s scripted), they risk appearing more concerned about their marketing efforts than the patient’s well-being. If a complication ever arose in such a situation, what would happen? Would the world be updated? What about the family watching the tweets on television as a doctor returns to explain what really happened during the procedure?

One only has to look back at the problems a formerly anonymous doctor blogger encountered when his identity was revealed in court during a malpractice trial and the contents of his blog than might have been used against him in court. He settled.

As trendy as tweeting “live” surgical procedures might seem, I fail to see how this benefits the patient undergoing surgery at all. Education of a surgical procedure can always occur before or after a procedure. If a complication were to arise during a live-tweeted or scripted-tweet surgery, the responsible doctor and hospital might ultimately find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of having to explain their actions to a jury.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*


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One Response to “Should Hospitals Provide Live Twitter Streams Of Surgical Procedures?”

  1. Bill Silberg says:

    I couldn’t agree more that this sort of use of social media, while seemingly “cool,” is more about sizzle than steak and potentially problematic. The use of any technology in a medical setting should be based on an evaluation of its purpose and its primary intended benefit to patients. If the issue here is how to better reassure patients’ families of a loved one’s progress during surgery, it seems to me that the gravity of such a situation calls for a skilled, informed human being to be doing the updating, in person, not a scripted Twitter event.

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