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Live-tweeting a surgery: Best practices from OSU Medical Center

4:01 pm by | 0 Comments

Ohio State University Medical Center says on Monday morning it became the first hospital in the state to live-tweet a surgery.

In addition to tweeting the proceedings of a minimally invasive knee-replacement surgery using the hashtag #osumcmako, the health system’s social media team broadcast a live video feed of the surgery on ustream.

The purpose of the live-tweeting and streaming was twofold, according to Ryan Squire, social media program director for OSU Medical Center. First, the health system wanted to publicize the availability of the procedure, which it calls (pdf) MAKOplasty, to patients and referring physicians. Second, the broadcasting and tweeting were another means of providing education to OSU medical students, particularly those interested in orthopedics, Squire said.

A doctor experienced in the procedure, which involves a robotic arm used to resurface and place an implant inside the knee of a patient suffering from osteoarthritis, dictated tweets to a member of Squire’s social media team.


Squire pronounced himself “very pleased” with the results. His team worked on the project for a couple weeks before the surgery date, with the most difficult aspect of the planning simply coordinating the schedules of a large number of people.

One lesson learned? If your hospital is planning a live video stream of a surgery, be sure audio is in place, too. While there might not be much useful sound coming out of the operating room itself, having audio capability would’ve allowed the doctor who was dictating tweets to add commentary to the video stream, Squire said.

Though OSU says it’s the first in Ohio to live-tweet a surgery, lots of other hospitals have done so in recent years and more are sure to follow. With that in mind, here are a few other best practices Squire learned:

  • Don’t just do it for the marketing. You have to be doing it for “the right reasons” — in this case, that was education about a medical procedure that isn’t particularly well-known by the general patient population. “We were very cognizant that this could go too far and seem like a marketing ploy,” Squire said. “Any time you’re using social media, it should be used to create value for someone.” (Besides yourself, presumably.)
  • Talk it over with the surgeons. Discuss detailed plans with the surgeons to be involved in the procedure, so they know what to expect, and be patient in answering their questions. Understand that some won’t buy into it. “Not every surgeon in America would want to be a part of this,” Squire said.
  • Run detailed plans by the hospital’s legal team and have the patient sign a HIPAA compliance form.
  • Have an emergency plan in place in case something goes wrong during the surgery. If complications had come up during the surgery, the plan was to cut the video and continue tweeting, Squire said. That’s because the operating room could’ve quickly turned chaotic and looked “scary” to viewers unfamiliar with how hospitals operate.
  • You need a team. One person to run the camera, another to send out tweets, another to monitor the twitter stream for questions and comments, and probably more than that. “One person can’t do this,” Squire said.

Video streaming by Ustream

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Brandon Glenn

By Brandon Glenn MedCity News

Brandon Glenn is the Ohio bureau chief for MedCity News.
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