Could Twitter help save our lives?
That’s the question addressed by a case study that was posted on Emory Healthcare’s web site recently, and it focused on an April 25 incident of an elderly woman in Georgia needing emergency medical care.
In some respects, the nature of the social media are at odds with the nature of health care. The former is built on a premise of openness and speed, while the latter is built on a premise of patient privacy and careful deliberations.
It can work
Nevertheless, the critical incident involving the family of Matthew Browning shows social media and health care to be complementary.
On April 25, Emory Healthcare received a tweet at 11:06 a.m. from Browning, a registered nurse, whose wife’s grandmother had just suffered a ruptured aorta and was facing death if she didn’t get help quickly. She was in a small South Georgia hospital that was not equipped to treat her.
Browning’s tweet read: “@emoryhealthcare NEED HELP NOW!! Grandma w/RUPTURED AORTA needs Card Surgeon/OR ASAP, STAT! Can you accept LifeFlight NOW!!?
Emory responded within minutes saying, ” Matthew, please either call 911 or have your grandma’s doctor call our transfer service to get immediate help: 404-686-8334.”
“What was most important here was giving Matthew information he could act on,” writes Morgan Griffith, web communications and social media specialist at Emory. “When using Twitter, messages can only be 140 characters, so it as critical to include the most necessary information for him to get immediate assistance.”
Browning responded immediately that he was doing that, Emory responded with their own tweet, and a few minutes later, Browning tweeted, “@emoryhealthcare Look for STAT Transfer from South Georgia. Accept her if able and we’ll see you soon. Thanks!”
Airlift within minutes
Sixteen minutes later, the heart patient was on a lifeflight to Emory. The dialogue between Browning and Emory continued on Twitter throughout the day. Browning had called the special number given him by Emory, which he wouldn’t have had if he had not tweeted them.
“If that doesn’t show you the power of social media, I don’t know what will,” writes Griffith. “It’s true that the same outcome may have taken place if it had not been for social media. But when a life is hanging in the balance and minutes … make the difference, the risk of ignoring social media … is one we’re not willing to take.”
Griffith adds, “When he reached out to us via Twitter, our team had the ability and capacity to help.”
Browning himself notes, “We group-sourced something to people with a common interest and achieved a medical miracle.”
The privacy rub
Of course everything that goes on Twitter is vulnerable to being seen by anyone. That’s where the rub of patient privacy conflicts. But Griffith asserts that there are times which “common sense” and the need for speed to save a life win out over privacy issues.
“In this case, health care and social media not only coexisted, but mirrored each other in pace to keep alive the possibility of saving a life. Without the quickness of social media, that helicopter may have never been dispatched.”
Every case doesn’t result in a happy ending, however, and this was one of them. The elderly heart patient died later that evening. But the use of the social media to get her speedy help greatly increased the chances doctors had of saving her life.
Some of the responses that came to this story, published on Emory Healthcare’s web site, endorsed the use of social media, despite the conflict the pose to patient privacy. Others disagreed. Here are a few of those posts:
- “Even though I thoroughly enjoy and utilize social media, (I) have always maintained an undercurrent of doubt as to the potential intensity of serious outcomes unique to it … UNTIL NOW. Having witnessed this crisis as it unfolded and the results … was an epiphany. There is a certain brand of peace that comes from knowing one has done absolutely everything to intervene. No regrets. Awesome.” (From an RN involved in the crisis situation).
- “A fascinating story and a valuable insight to how social media and heath care can merge into something that is difficult to see today.”
- “What this really showed is the failure to have a regional one point of access to medical care. The fact that he had to resort to twitter Is both frightening, and I hope doesn’t mean that hospitals are now going to be held accountable 24/7 to monitoring every tweet with their name in it? In the future are you suggesting this is a new referral method? I sure hope not.”
I used to think that newspapers were the slowest institution to adapt to change and find new ways of doing business. Not any more, though. With the Internet and new forms of competition, newspapers realized they needed to change or die.
When it comes to churches, though, I’ve sensed they haven’t gotten this message. Except for a flirtation with the idea of “drive-in” churches (pack up the kids and go as you are because you won’t leave your car anyway), I’m not sure churches have changed the way they do business much.
Changes in size
Certainly some churches – dubbed megachurches – have gotten much bigger, and the denominational walls have been punctured, if not obliterated in some places. So some change is occurring at some churches. But there are also a lot of near-empty and decaying traditional structures that used to house the overflowing First Methodist or First Presbyterian Church in any city.
But changing size isn’t necessarily changing practices.
According to the 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, it looks like a lot of these churches should think about doing things differently. The reason is that membership is declining in mainline denominational churches and has been doing so since the 1970s. In some cases the decline is small but, when you factor in the country’s population growth during that time, the decline has actually been very steep.
Pews not as full
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has posted the largest membership drop, followed by the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, and the more conservative Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod. The giant Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Church show figures that are relatively flat. Pentecostal churches like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God are faring better.
I was thinking about this the other day and that led me – where else – to the Internet and specifically to the question of how churches are using the social media like Facebook to boost membership.
Turning to social media
Turns out, there are more changes afoot in churches than I realized.
One story I came across involved a Rev. Alex Lang, associate pastor of Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pa.
Lang is one of a growing number of pastors who are becoming more tech-savy in taking their churches online.
When Rev. Lang realized his 153-year-old church needed to attract new members, he turned to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and other social networks to increase interest and awareness in his church.
Reversing a trend
“Like many mainline Protestant churches, we are experiencing a declining members,” Lang told Pennlive.com. “We wanted to reverse that and attract new members, especially in the 20 to 45-age group. A lot of people that age think we are too traditional and locked in our ways. That’s not the reality at all.”
To prove it, Pine Street Church took to the social media. From announcements about upcoming services, to news of bake sales, to tweeted prayers, and intercessions, , the church is taking advantage of the powers of social networking.
Here are a few other discoveries:
• A lot of churches are using FB to make their members and guests feel more connected to the church and its membership.
• The average Facebook user has 130 registered “friends,” so if just 20 church members use Facebook, that’s potentially 2,600 people who could read posts about your church. One hundred members with Facebook could touch 13,000. Many pastors have done that math and like the results.
• Facebook makes it easy for churches to start and run pages, with its “Create a Page,” feature. FB also offers helpful advice to churches on how to connect with their community.
• Church is, by definition, about community and relationships. So are social media. This idea comes from Jon Swanson, creator of the Levite Chronicles. Swanson writes, “If you take what Jesus said about what we know as church with some seriousness, it is a set of vertical and horizontal relationships. It is about the people. And so it is with social media.”
• Swanson was part of a team that went to Gulfport, Miss., to help in the reconstruction of the area after Hurricane Katrina. “While we were there, we put pictures on flickr, audioblogged with hipcast, and just blogged. People back home were able to look and listen and read. People put our links on their church websites,” he says.
• Pastors keep up to date on illnesses and hardships of their members by scanning their Facebook pages to see how they are doing and what milestones are occurring in their lives.
Catholics on board
Also discovering the power of social media are Roman Catholic Churches, even though the Vatican governing powers are not always seen as the most modern or worldly group.
Nevertheless, in Pope Benedict’s message last January to the church’s World Communications Day (which arrives on June 5), he called Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media a “great opportunity” for developing dialogue, respect, and honest relationships.
I suppose if a 2,000-year-old institution can change, so can the rest of us.