Webcast surgeries promoted with infomercials and advertisements
The point of Shila Renee Mullins’s brain surgery was to remove a malignant tumor threatening to paralyze her left side. But Methodist University Hospital in Memphis also saw an opportunity to promote the hospital to prospective patients.
So, a video webcast of Mullins’s awake craniotomy, in which the patient remains conscious and talking while surgeons prod and cut inside her brain, was promoted with infomercials and advertisements featuring a photograph of a beautiful model, not Mullins.
This time, Methodist did not use billboards as it has with other operations, deeming this procedure too sensitive. But its marketing department monitors how many people have watched the webcast, seen a preview on YouTube and requested appointments.
Hospitals are using unconventional, even audacious, ways of connecting directly with the public. Seeking to attract or educate patients, entice donors, gain recognition and recruit or retain top doctors, hospitals are using Twitter from operating rooms, showing surgery on YouTube and having patients blog about their procedures. Some ethicists and physicians say the practices raise questions about patient privacy and could paint overly-rosy medical pictures, leaving the hospitals and patients vulnerable if things go awry.
Jeffrey Kahn, a University of Minnesota bioethicist, sees “value in demystifying medical care”, but said this “creates an aura of sophistication and high-tech ability” that may not represent quality of care at a hospital. “Do we really want to treat health care like other consumer goods?” he asked.
Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit uses Twitter from the operating room. Bill Ferris, the hospital’s web services manager, said that during an operation to remove a man’s kidney tumor, the surgeon, Craig Rogers, worried that the unexpectedly large tumor would require total kidney removal. “Gosh, this is big,” Rogers said. “Could I have picked a harder case for this?” So an observing chief resident tweeted: “Rogers is saying because the tumor is large he may have to do a radical nephrectomy.”
Then, “some bleeding needed to be controlled,” but “we just tweeted right through it,” Ferris said. Other Twitter-casts included a hysterectomy and a craniotomy, during which the hospital posted video on YouTube and photos, and the surgeon would “literally scrub out for an hour and twitter.” Hospitals say patients give consent and are not compensated. More than 250 hospitals now use YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, said Ed Bennett, Web strategy director for the University of Maryland Medical System.