Surgery Via Twitter


It seems like every company under the sun is trying to figure out how social media can fit into their marketing mix. And healthcare companies are no exception. While other hospitals struggle to find ways to use tools like Twitter and Facebook to create buzz, build a strong brand and connect with physicians and patients, Henry Ford Hospital has managed to find and implement a unique strategy…and get plenty of buzz while doing so.

Recently, this well-recognized hospital in Detroit opened its operating room to the public by detailing, in real time, the specifics of a patient’s robotic partial nephrectomy (doctor-speak for removal of a kidney tumor while preserving the remaining kidney) via Twitter. Twitter users “following” the surgery were also invited to pose questions to the operating surgeons. You can find the hospital’s Twitter feed here.

It seems that people have mixed feelings about Henry Ford’s new media approach. Some are up in arms because they feel it violates patient privacy rights (although I’m sure the hospital got patient sign-off…and the only information we know about the patient was age and gender). Others think it compromised patient safety (but I later found out the surgeon wasn’t the “twitter-er”…it was his chief resident).

To be honest, the whole thing made me a little uncomfortable at first. I certainly wouldn’t want my surgeon tweeting while I’m under the knife. But once I got all the facts, I saw that it was a pretty cool idea. For one, it seems like a good way to tout a special area of expertise a hospital may have…in this case, robotic surgery. Also, it’s a great opportunity for education. Patients looking to have the same kind of surgery can get a glimpse of what it will be like. Doctors and med students can learn from the experiences of other health care professionals. And a hospital can get a whole lot of buzz. Henry Ford’s surgery tweets have already garnered substantial media attention—including coverage from big hitters like CNN.

I’m eager to see if other hospitals follow suit. Maybe some hospitals will even go beyond tweeting surgery to tweeting chemotherapy, MRI’s or experimental cancer treatments. As the daughter of a physician, I somehow can’t imagine my dad calling me to tell me he is now required to “tweet” his x-ray findings. But we’ll have to wait and see.

I didn’t see the marketing plan for this project, so I’m not exactly sure what Henry Ford’s goals were. If their goal was to try something new to create buzz around the hospital’s name, I would say: “mission accomplished.”

The hospital is obviously pleased with the results. Their next live surgery tweet is already tentatively scheduled for March 6.


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Filed under Healthcare, New Media, Twitter

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