doctor, surgeon, doctors, surgeons

Twitter Use Among Doctors Stirs Controversy

November 16, 2009 02:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The Twitter trend has found its way into operating rooms, but not everyone is comfortable with doctors revealing surgical details via the social networking tool.

The New Bedside Manner?

Physicians throughout the United States have been using Twitter during surgical procedures to keep nervous families abreast of progress in the operating room. In Florida, the concept has taken off. Although many patients are in favor, some physicians find the trend disturbing.

Dr. Carlos Wolf, a Miami plastic surgeon, told Nirvi Shah of The Miami Herald that his Twitter use during procedures is “really to make those patients, family and friends feel comfortable.” But how can he focus on the surgery while tweeting every 15 minutes? Wolf explained, “[w]e don’t have a two-way conversation. The most important thing is for me to concentrate on what I’m doing.” He told Shah that if anything were to go awry during surgery, he’d still speak directly to families.

During her daughter’s surgery performed by Wolf, one South Florida mom was pleased with the tweets. “Although I couldn’t see it, I felt like I was close to my daughter,” she told Shah. The mother also called the use of Twitter in the operating room “modern-day bedside manner.”

Aurora Health Care, which runs Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, is among several hospital systems “that have detailed surgeries on Twitter.” According to Pamela Lewis Dolan in an article for American Medical News, Aurora Health doctors find the social networking tool “an inexpensive and easy way to connect with patients, and potential patients, and perhaps get a little media buzz.”

Jamey Shiels, Aurora Health’s social media director, suggests that “traditional advertising does not result in a two-way conversation,” whereas Twitter provides a chance for “one-to-many conversation,” Dolan reported.

Doctors and iPhones

Twitter isn't the only techie phenomenon to have become an essential tool for some doctors. The iPhone is considered “a medical necessity” to Dr. Camil Sader of Broward and Palm Beach counties, The Miami Herald reports. Sader, a laparoscopic surgery specialist, “sometimes visits 180 patients at four hospitals in a single week,” which makes keeping track of “their prognosis and other details about their care” a headache without the Apple device. With his iPhone, Sader can store and e-mail billing information directly to his office manager, avoiding endless paperwork.

Opinion & Analysis: Should doctors use Twitter?

Still, there are plenty of doctors that take issue with the use of Twitter in the operating room, “especially when tweets and webcasts are available for public consumption,” Shah reports.

Dr. Erika Schwartz of South Florida-based health insurance agency Cinergy Health said she keeps a Facebook page and exchanges e-mails with her patients, but Twitter crosses the line. “I’m a big fan of social networking. It reaches people. There’s a lot of information that can be shared. But it’s got to be done with respect to the doctor-patient relationship.”

The Huffington Post provides a series of doctors’ opinions on Twitter use. Of note is the comment by Gwenn O’Keefe, a pediatrician and editor of, who says the Hippocratic oath requires doctors to respect “the society in which they live.” O’Keefe continues, “Like it or not, technology is part of that society so we have a responsibility to not only respect it but learn it and use it for the greater good.”

Some physicians are also worried about the “potential HIAA violations and litigation concerns” that could arise though using social networking Web sites like Facebook, according to Icons in Medicine. Dr. Sachin Jain of Brigham and Women’s Hospital says she has “wondered about the appropriateness of the interaction” she has with patients on Facebook.

Related Topic: Health care reform on Twitter

As part of CNN’s new weekly feature recommending five Twitter feeds covering a “hot topic in the news,” the network listed health care Twitter users. Included in the list of five is blogger/doctor Kevin Pho, who “offers up commentary on his life as a physician and the health care system.”

Background: Five great sites for doctors

EMedicine from WebMD is a continually updated clinical reference by Medscape that allows you to browse articles and news by specialty.

UpToDate is a subscription-based information resource for doctors, patients, institutions and editors, based on evidence and peer-reviewed for quality.

WebMD has authoritative information on many health-related topics, providing health news, extensive information on diseases and conditions, thorough topical health guides, a family health center, a lifestyle section and more.

The Merck Manual is a best-selling medical text used by physicians. The manual, published since 1899, provides information on disorders, including at-risk patients, symptoms and diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Basic prognosis is also covered.

The National Library of Medicine (MedlinePlus)
has an extensive, easy-to-navigate drug guide providing information on precautions, administering specific medications, side effects, storage, emergency situations, brand names and more.

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