Henry Ford 'Tweets' live surgery

By Molly Merrill
09:57 AM

Surgeons at the Henry Ford Health System, a Detroit-based non-profit healthcare system, will use Twitter to educate the public on a live robotic surgery.

Friday morning, a surgeon will use the micro-blogging service during a robotic procedure of a hysterectomy.

During a robotic surgery, the surgeon performs the surgery while sitting at a console, where he has a 3-D image of the surgery site that is picked up by a camera and displayed on a large screen in the OR for the surgical team. This allows the surgeon who is 'tweeting' to see and hear everything but to be out of the way of the sterile field. 

The tweets will create messages of 140 characters or less to provide a running commentary and update of surgery activities. YouTube video providing snippets of the surgery will also be fed into the Twitter stream.

Hospital officials say the patient has consented to the surgery being fed to their social networking sites.

This will be the hospital's third tweeted surgery. Last month, Henry Ford tweeted during a robotic partial nephrectomy. The surgery, which was more of a challenge than surgeons initially expected, was at the end tweeted as a "success."

"People understand that surgeries don't always go as expected," said William Ferris, Web Services manager at Henry Ford.  In the event of a dire situation or significant problem he says they would cut back their twittering out of respect to the patient.

"We have to balance transparency with being respectful," he said.

David I. Eisenstein, MD, will be leading the robotic hysterectomy. This surgery is a minimally invasive alternative to an open hysterectomy because it allows for a smaller incision, less post-operative pain, a shorter hospital stay, less blood loss and a quicker return to normal activity.

Ferris said Henry Ford is considering using Twitter for more surgeries. Using Twitter allows the health system to educate the public on innovative medical cases or more common cases that may appeal to a larger audience and may help answer questions, he said.

 "This is another way for patients to access our organization," he said.