Healthcare and Social Media: The Benefits Win Out

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , June 3, 2009

We were looking for new ways to help Sherman connect with their community, to provide information, and help people become more familiar with the hospital. We found that Tweeting the surgery was an excellent way to help potential surgical candidates become more comfortable with Sherman.

The surgery that was performed at Sherman Hospital was a laproscopic hysterectomy, which, as you can imagine, is a complicated procedure. The procedure was even more unique in that it was done with the da Vinci Surgical Robot, a truly incredible piece of technology. Some of the benefits of this type of procedure are the incredibly small incisions, less blood loss, and a speedier recovery time. The surgery was led by Raja Chatterji, MD, and Humberto Lamoutte, MD, both OB/GYNs and surgeons on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital, both highly trained on the da Vinci Surgical Robot.

GS: What were the benefits of doing the surgery? What were the risks?

MB: The first surgery to be Tweeted was done by Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan. Having them come before us helped Sherman understand what was involved. We were the second hospital to do this, the first in Illinois and the first ever to simulcast on Twitter and Facebook. Since then there have been several other hospitals that have Tweeted surgeries and all have been great successes.

Our main concern was getting approval from the patient. Luckily we were able to find several patients who were excited about participating. The doctors narrowed it down to one patient based on logistics, surgical complexity, and timing. Since the doctors felt comfortable that the patient would be an appropriate choice for this surgery, the second concern for us was centered around technology. We brought in our own equipment, which included two MacBook Pros, two iPhones, a HD video camera, mini-DV camera, and a digital SLR camera. In addition to tweeting details on the progress of the operation and answering questions from our community and around the world, we were able to take near-realtime photos and upload high-def video to YouTube within about three minutes.

The response to the surgery was overwhelmingly positive. We had people watching from all over the world and then coverage followed from every major media outlet in Chicago, as well as newspapers, magazines, and trade journals from across the country.

As with anything new, there are risks involved, and the Internet has made it easier than ever for comments to be shared. Some people were confused about the surgery and were concerned that the doctors were putting down their scalpels to Tweet. Others thought it may be a violation of privacy for the patient, not realizing that, of course, we had permission. The patient's family was very excited and watched the surgery on a BlackBerry from the waiting room, which they felt was a huge comfort. Part of our job is to also help with reputation management and education.

GS: If you could tell hospital leaders one thing about using social media (especially if they are hesitant or skeptical about it), what would it be?

MB: Social media isn't going to go away, and ignoring it isn't really a viable option. The best way to manage your reputation online is to participate. Ignoring it is a short-lived strategy. Hospitals and healthcare facilities need to become involved and present helpful, safe, and accurate information.

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