It's Tuesday morning and I'm still waiting for my coffee to fully kick in. Reading through the day's news from our clipping service, I learn that the Orthopedic Institute at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle is minutes away from broadcasting a knee replacement surgery live on their website, with the opportunity for audience participation via a web chat and Twitter. The event was designed to promote the use of new robotics equipment during the surgery—all with the consent of the patient.
A little curious and a little in need of a kick to complement my coffee, I tuned in to a bird's-eye view of the surgery already in progress, with occasional cuts to the docs' computer monitors. Questions on the surgery technique, infection risks and the robotics equipment used to perform the surgery poured in from the viewers, estimated at one point at more than 1,500. The surgeon involved in the procedure occasionally added his own commentary as he removed pieces of bone with a bone-cutting burr implement, raising his voice over the din of the burr.
This isn't my first experience with the use of social media to publicize a new surgical technique. Two years ago, I traveled to Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., to watch a clinical team perform a robotic hysterectomy while I jostled for space in the operating room with other journalists, including cameramen. The hospital's PR reps tweeted the proceedings, occasionally asking the surgeons questions about the procedure.
At the time, I quoted other hospital execs—including social-media savvy bloggers like former Beth Israel Deaconess CEO Paul Levy—who said they wouldn't consider it. Too many risks, Levy said. The advocates, meanwhile, pointed to the promotional benefits of getting in on the ground floor of the live-tweeted surgery industry, hastening to point out they had plans to cancel the social-media experiment if anything went awry.
Two years, of course, is a lifetime in social media, and tweeting a surgery is apparently old hat—now you need a live webcast to get noticed.
There were unexpected complications Tuesday—but not with the procedure. A problem with the live streaming web site UStream forced the docs to switch over to JustinTv, delaying the start of the broadcast. As the editor of a daily e-newsletter, my sanity dependent on cooperation from the IT systems that store our blogs and videos, it's heartening to know even live-streaming, tweeting orthopedic surgeons have to contend with the same mundane technical difficulties the rest of us do.
I'm interested in your thoughts, though. Do you think your facility should stream a live surgery to promote a new service line or technique? E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.