Can live-tweeted surgery be of public health interest?

Live-tweeted surgery, or twurgery as it has been named, is spreading. As written previously on this blog a number of surgeries have already invited Twitter into the operating room, for example by Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center who live-tweeted from a brain surgeryRex Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina have now joined the club by live-tweeting a hysterectomy.

Having followed a surgery live through Twitter myself, I admit that it is for some reason fascinating. I have previously watched surgeries on video and even attended some in person and yet there is some different about following it on Twitter. Apart from the fascinating element I do however struggle a little bit with the value of these twurgeries. Do they have any role to play seen from a public health perspective? Or is marketing and branding of a particular hospital or a specific technic the overriding ground for the twittering hospitals?

The main rational behind the Twitter event at Rex Healthcare was, according to their eMarketing manager, Jason Papagan to “showcase the leading edge medical procedures we have here.” [see full quote here].

Other hospitals have brought social media into the operation room for similar reasons, however most of them (including Rex Healthcare) also highlight that the objective is to serve as educational aid, informing medical students and patients about modern surgery.

For Aura Health Care, who tweeted from an awake temporal lobectomy, the objective was, apart from demonstrating their advanced brain surgery skills also to illustrate to patients suffering from epilepsy that surgical treatment is an option and to defuse the procedure a little bit. If awake temporal lobectomy is an appropriate but underused treatment against epilepsy and if an event like a live-tweeted operation can help open the eyes of patients and their relatives to the procedure, then I guess on could argue for a public health interest in the bringing social media all the way into the surgical theater. If this be the case, then I guess it would also be of interest to publicly funded hospitals to tweet or for patient organisations to advocate for this means of communication. According to my knowledge, this is yet to occur.

It would be interesting to hear other people’s thought on this issue. Whom benefits from live-tweeted surgeries? Can it be considered a means of science communication? Is there a public health component to them? The questions are many. Think my head will need to struggle with this one for a little bit longer.



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