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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Twittering from the OR

Published July 14, 2009 12:50 PM by Linda Jones
"I would feel better if I knew what was happening in there." A thought many family members have as they wait for a loved one who is in surgery. "When will someone come out to tell me how it's going?"

In an age where news is delivered in real time to anyone who wants it, having to wait to hear the outcome of a procedure can cause significant anxiety.

Social networking to the rescue.

Twittering during a surgical procedure is not new and is seen as a teaching tool. Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit offered a Twitter account of a procedure to remove a cancerous tumor from a man's kidney. The surgeon himself did the twittering - even when the procedure got a little complicated.

In the next phase of using Twitter during surgery, Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO, used Twitter to keep family informed of the progress of surgery on a 10-year-old girl. The updates offered comfort to the girl's mother who was in the waiting room, and to the father in Mongolia, where the family is from.

The family agreed to allow the updates to be broadcast not only to them but to the hospital's 800 followers. According to reports, having frequent updates about the surgery gave comfort to the family.

Unlike the Henry Ford case, it was not the surgeon doing the twittering, but a staff member. Both scenarios raise questions of quality of care. If surgeons twitter, is their concentration on the procedure or the next tweet? Could they miss something or lose a precious second as they type out 140 characters?

The question with the staffer twittering is similar. What is this person's primary job and is it compromised by having to also translate events observed in the OR into snippets of easily understood information?

I didn't read in any of the news coverage if the twittering replaced the traditional communication methods of having someone come out to the waiting room to address the family, especially when the surgery is over. 

Even though at least one tweet addressed the family directly, "Our patient is doing great. It's almost over mom. 2nd incision is done and closed up. Dr. Singhal starting on the 3rd one now," what is lost by not having a person come into the waiting room so the family gets the full impression of how the surgery is progressing, by using all forms communication: tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions - maybe even touching the anxious family member to offer additional assurance.

I can see twittering during surgery working as a teaching tool and as a way to keep all family and friends informed, but I question the possible compromise to quality of care and the loss of human contact for those waiting in person.

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