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.”