Why Doctors Are Tweeting During Surgery

Photo: Hospitals using social networking to interact with web audience live during surgeries

Social networking has hit the operating room.

Imagine tweeting about a double-knee replacement in Wisconsin. As you watch, you can send in your questions.

It's no dream; this is a reality as the medical arena makes health care more interactive.

"I think it's a unique opportunity to explore innovative ways to communicate with patients and alleviative fears they may have about joint-replacement surgery," said Dr. Joel Wallskog, an orthopedic surgeon at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee.

VIDEO: Why Doctors Are Tweeting During Surgery
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Wallskog will conduct a knee-replacement surgery today in Wisconsin when the first health care system in the state gives live updates on a surgery via Twitter . Starting at 8 a.m. CT, nearly anyone who belongs to Twitter can follow Wallskog as he replaces a woman's knee.

Growing Number of Health Care Providers Tweeting

But they're not the first in the nation.

By one estimate, more than 100 hospitals have some kind of Twitter account and 82 hospitals have Facebook pages.

Deb Borchert had her uterus removed earlier this month at Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. Little did she know her surgery would become an Internet sensation.

Borchet had no problem when the doctors asked her if it would be all right to use Twitter to communicate with the outside world during the robotic surgery, which is a fairly cutting-edge procedure that is minimally invasive and requires less recovery time than traditional hysterectomy surgery.

"I think that's a great idea, because if there's another woman out there who has that option [of robotic surgery] and it helps her to go this way, that's a great opportunity," Borchert said.

Twitter Teaching

All the tweeting about procedures is not just helpful for potential patients. Surgeons are also using Twitter as a teaching tool.

Three surgeons rotated between working on a patient and hovering over a computer screen in Detroit last month, typing answers to questions sent in by medical students via Twitter. They were performing a complicated open-brain surgery.

From thousands of miles away, students asked about the techniques used, whether the patient felt any pain, the music they were listening to in the room.

At one point, an observer wrote and asked, "Shouldn't these surgeons be operating rather than tweeting?"

The answer from the doctors: "At any given point, there is a very senior team with the patient [eight total], and whichever one of us is not doing surgery at that particular moment, we jump on the live feed."

Dr. Steve Kalkanis, one of the team surgeons, said, "There's a whole new generation of medical students and residents coming of age around the country, and it's a generation skilled in instant interactive interpersonal communication and feedback, and I think that if medical education is going to be as relevant and effective as possible, it needs to keep pace with this new standard."

That's precisely why the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota had something called a "tweet camp" Wednesday to bring doctors, nurses and staff up to speed on Twitter and other new social networking technology.

Mayo Clinic Embraces Social Networking

The Mayo Clinic was one of the earliest medical centers to embrace social networking and now it has a full-time staffer who spends most of the day dedicated to the task.

The clinic uses sites like You Tube, Twitter and Facebook to reach potential patients.

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