Heart surgery in 140 characters

Social media met the operating room on February 20, 2014, as Sunnybrook live-tweeted a heart bypass surgery to mark Heart Month and educate the hospital’s community about heart disease and cardiac surgery.  The live tweet included posting photos, video and information in real time by Sunnybrook’s web communications team and staff photographer.  Questions were also fielded from the public, with the goal of helping to demystify what happens in the operating room.

Dr. Gideon Cohen, Chief, Division of Cardiac Surgery at Sunnybrook, led the operation.  The hospital had consent from 57-year-old patient Lou, who had been carefully selected, to live tweet.  Popular tweets included “The team is now stopping Lou’s heart with a potassium mixture.  This protects and cools the heart, to reduce oxygen requirements. #SBheart”, which was paired with a video.  In addition to a play-by-play of the procedure, there were tweets about the role of the other health care staff in the room, such as the perfusionist.

“The response was absolutely overwhelming, we received hundreds of questions, and so many heartfelt good wishes for Lou and the heart team,” says Brent Creelman, senior digital media strategist and social media lead at Sunnybrook, who was live tweeting the procedure for over four hours.  “Photos and video really made it come alive for the public, it was the next best thing to actually being in the operating room.”

The live tweet of the double bypass caught the attention of media, with coverage throughout Canada and also as far away as Australia.  A grade 5 teacher in Ancaster, Ontario, allowed her class to follow the surgery, resulting in so many questions that Dr. Cohen has agreed to a separate Skype session with the children.  In just a few hours, Sunnybrook’s Twitter followers increased from 15,000 to over 20,000.

The live tweet concluded with a surprise for those watching, when it was revealed that it was also Lou’s birthday.  An archive of the live-tweet is available at sunnybrook.ca/Sbheart