Recap and Overview: What we can learn from Sunnybrook’s Live Tweet of Cardiac Surgery

I found out about the event when my co-worker texted me about Sunnybrook’s live tweeting Event of a Cardiac Surgery. I was ecstatic! The only other time I had seen this done was on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.


Sunnybrook isn’t the first hospital to live tweet surgery

The first live tweet of an open heart surgery took place in Houston of a 57-year-old male with a blockage of the coronary artery. In the same institution a few months later, on May 9, 2012 two neurosurgeons live tweeted brain surgery of a 21-year-old female with a cavernous angioma in her right temporal lobe.

However, Sunnybrook may be the first Canadian Hospital to do it – What was exciting about the Sunnybrook Hospital event was that this was Canadian and close to home. I had completed 6 weeks of an Emergency Medicine rotation at Sunnybrook during second year of PA school.

My twitter newsfeed, which consists primarily of stakeholders invested in health care in social media, was exploding with tweets about the event. Physicians, patients, medical learners and the general public were asking simple and insightful questions. Local newspapers and Canadian media outlets were picking up the story very quickly from The Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, to CTV News.

Sunnybrook patient Lou underwent a coronary artery bypass surgery. 


(image source: Wikipedia)

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(quote from:

Issues around Patient Confidentiality

For the surgeries that were live tweeted in Houston, names and patient identifiers were removed for patient confidentiality, and both patients consented to having the surgeries broadcasted live.  What I found interesting, was that the patient being operated on at Sunnybrook opted to have his first name used, “Lou”. Sunnybrook also tweeted to the Lou’s family members, which I imagine was discussed with the family members and with Lou beforehand.

The attitude of Health Care Organizations towards Social Media is changing

And this is a good thing. We are moving away from an archaic system that utilizes one-way communication, where organizations dispense news and announcements and the audience consumes.

Many health care organizations have dedicated social media teams and community managers to engage those audiences. There are many strategies involved, from tweet chats, live Q&As, live streaming of events and concurrent use of conference hashtags so audiences can follow, content marketing in health care.

Social media has helped these organizations build relationships, build value, and disseminate information like wildfire. Patients, learners and health care providers are getting engaged.

Organizations like Mayo Clinic have reaped the benefits of being social media leader, and have been touted as the “Gold Standard” for hospital involvement in Social media.

Benefits of developing and implementing a social media strategy include:

  • Strong Brand Recognition
  • Helping to achieve an organization’s missions and values about delivery of patient care
  • Developing leadership in the field
  • Disseminating information, patient education, and new services on a broader scale to patients, stakeholders
  • Monitor outcomes and markers for engagement to see your organization’s impact

All of this can be achieved with the development of social media policy guidelines and a strategy without violating patient confidentiality. The Canadian Medical Association has released an “issues and rules of engagement” for Canadian Physicians about engaging in social media as a guideline for participating.

My thoughts during the Live Tweet of the Surgery

  • I appreciated the tweets of video, pictures of the procedure. I was more drawn and tended to retweet those more than the text only tweets.
  • Telling a patient story and seeing the Sunnybrook staff interact with the patient really humanized the organization.
  • My perception of quality care provided by Sunnybrook certainly increased, based on their willingness to engage and educate the audience following the procedure.
  • I do wish the tweets were more frequent, and more questions were answered. I do not know of their strategy for responding to tweets – whether it was one person tweeting and responding or a team.
  • Upon reading some of the responses on the Toronto Star live stream of the event, they have included responses such as :response 1I argue that through this event they are focusing on patient care, and are educating a much wider audience through live tweeting the event.
  • As this is a live event, many things could go wrong:
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Some of the interesting tweets: