Using Twitter to Teach

Surgeons use Twitter as a teaching tool in the operating room.

ByABC News via logo
March 21, 2009, 11:46 AM

March 22, 2009— -- As doctors Steven Kalkanis and Kost Elisevich performed brain surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a watchful medical team looked on. So did more than 1,900 others, who subscribe to the microblogging social network site Twitter—and had decided to "follow" Henry Ford Hospital.

Holli Charbonneau is one of them. She was watching the surgery not from the operating room but from her kitchen, 15 miles away. Holli, or "Holli81" as she is known on Twitter, is a third-year medical student at Wayne State University. From behind the screen of her computer, she checks the updates or "tweets" streaming in. "They're making good progress." she says.

In Massachusetts, Harvard medical resident Phil Williams is watching, too. He plans to specialize in orthopedics, and has never seen this type of brain surgery, an awake craniotomy, before.

He types in a question for the surgeons. "I asked about the brain. It doesn't feel pain, but does it feel pressure?" he explained.Moments later, one of the doctors in the operating room "tweets" back an answer.

Henry Ford Hospital has launched an unusual marriage of medicine and new media. The hospital began "twittering" some of its more groundbreaking surgical cases.

Doctors will post real-time "tweets" from the operating room, while a technician uploads video of the surgery to YouTube.

A technician installs a computer in a corner of the operating room. As surgeons scrub out of the surgery, they spend time answering questions "tweeted" in from around the country.

Shouldn't You Be Operating?

Dr. Kalkanis reads from the twitter page, "I have a question: shouldn't these surgeons be operating rather than tweeting?"

He then reads his reply, "I said that patient safety comes first. Whoever is not attending to the patient jumps on the feed… but at any given point there is a very senior team with the patient."

This patient is a 47-year-old man with a tumor in the part of his brain that controls his speech. He consented to the twitter feed, and to have video of his surgery uploaded to YouTube.