I’ll admit, I am not much of a TV junkie, but I do have one guilty pleasure that involves, Thursday nights, a McDreamy & a McSteamy, and usually a couple glasses of wine. If you’re still unsure what I am talking about, that would be Grey’s Anatomy. It has seemed to be the only show that has held my interest over the past few seasons. Maybe it’s the drama, the good looking male doctors, or the farfetched story lines (think the episode where the live person had a ticking bomb in their body…I don’t think so) that has kept me so intrigued. Though many of its plots may be a far cry from reality, one episode this past season left many wondering whether the show was on to something.
The episode in question, which aired this past February, shows the doctors using Twitter in the operating room, initially to follow two surgeries at once. Now it wouldn’t be true drama television if by the end of the hour a patient wasn’t saved by the use of Twitter, which is exactly what happened. Despite an initial protest from the Chief of Surgery, the use of Twitter in the hospital proves to be a life saving technique. The story unfolds like this: after running into a problem during a high risk surgery, the doctors begin tweeting, suggestions flood in from doctors around the world with ideas, and after a few heart pounding moments, the patient is saved …and all because of Twitter! Inspiring, really.
Now on to how this relates to our country in question this week, Chile. On April 12th, 2011 a nurse by the name of Cristina Bizama, who worked at Talca Hospital in Chile, sent a Tweet that has since sparked international conversation. That night, the hospital had five viable organs that needed to be transported to Santiago, Chile, 162 miles away. With no way of getting there at the present time, which could potentially compromise their usability, Bizama Tweeted: “Incredible! There’s no way to transport 5 organs to Santiago.” When a programmer named Felipe Zuniga saw Bizama’s tweet, and decided to send a similar message, reaching out to media and political outlets, word of the organ crisis spread like wildfire. Eventually the Health & Defense Ministers were contacted through a Member of Parliament who saw the tweet from Zuniga. The issue seemed to be that there were no available Air Force planes available for the transport. After sorting through other unforeseen circumstances, the organs were finally transported early the next morning, still in time to be given to patients. Yet, the conversation didn’t end with their delivery.
The Procurement Coordinator for the National Transplant Corporation, Diego Buchuk, stated they were aware of the situation and working to remedy it before Bizama’s tweet. However, the use of Twitter helped move the conversation and transport along and brought to light a potential weakness in the Transplant Corporation that should be addressed in order to prevent the risk of losing viable organs in the future. The nurse’s tweet did far more then start a conversation about this one incident, it has provided an idea for how to solve similar problems in the future. It also offers a means of holding medical organizations accountable, making them more likely to develop stronger contingency plans for when issues such as the transplant delivery one arise.
Both the factious episode of Grey’s Anatomy and the real life story of the Chilean nurse’s tweet beg the question as to the use of social media in the medical field, both in Chile and around the world. According to Ebennett.org, as of June 8th 2011, 788 hospitals in the US alone have Twitter accounts, a number that has tripled in the last two years. Twitter is being used at these hospitals for a variety of reasons, including research and education.
I believe all those involved in the medical field should explore the power and access Twitter can offer them. As long as a patient’s privacy isn’t compromised and the social network is helping to engage and educate doctors and medical professionals in ways they would not have been able to learn before, I don’t believe there is cause for concern. With so many hospitals already joining the movement, and the stories of success, such as the one from Chile, the possibilities are seemingly endless, including life saving abilities!