Surgery broadcast on the web

June 8, 2009


If you had a malignant tumour threatening to paralyze you then you would happily embrace the necessary surgery, but how do you feel about having it filmed and put on the web by the hospital to promote their services? This is what happened to Shila Renee Mullins when she was filmed praising the care she received at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis and her surgery and care were turned into a promotional video for the hospital to attract more patients.Can’t see it happening on the NHS, or at least not yet, though given the desire for self promotion and our five minutes of fame that seems to have gripped the nation I am certainly not counting it out. This particular surgery requires the patient to be awake and conscious during it and she was filmed talking while the scalpels went in. The resulting operation was then promoted as a webcast and with ads in the newspapers and on tv. America being the land of the beautiful, sadly Ms. Mullins was replaced in the media with an attractive model, though presumably they couldn’t CGI a more beautiful head on to the poor woman while she had the surgery.

The resulting webcast certainly had a good number of ‘hits’ as their marketing department kept track. A preview on YouTube netted 21,555 viewers while the entire webcast of the surgery slumped dramatically to 2,212 and only 3 people requested appointments – which was presumably the object of the exercise. Hospitals in the US have to compete for patients in the marketplace as does every other commodity and they have spent large sums on conventional media to attract patients, but these are highly expensive compared to the Internet. Hospitals have previously used Twitter from operating rooms, showed surgery on YouTube and had their patients blog about their procedures – back to that five minutes of fame.

Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit uses Twitter from the operating room and surgeon Dr. Craig Rogers operating room had an online observing chief resident who Twittered the following while Dr. Craig was removing an unexpectedly large tumour from a kidney. I give you his exact words online, live as it happened: “Gosh, this is big. Could I have picked a harder case for this?” The fact he knew he was being broadcast could have affected what he said, and any distraction from the surgery seems to me to e downright dangerous – if not actually unprofessional. Hospitals say patients give consent and are not compensated for any videoing but there are already plenty of people seeking surgery as a way of body sculpting and enhancing rather than as a medical procedure and there are concerns that if you will do anything to get on TV then this could be one way to do it.

My nightmare is an extension of Big Brother set in a surgical ward where they are competing for the most outrageous operation and the winner has their brain removed on prime time TV – though how much brain they would find in those contestants would be open to doubt.

Not all blogging and tweeting is a bad thing; some hospitals are using it to gain patients for clinical trials that are otherwise difficult and expensive to recruit, and to publicise fundraising or legislation for increased funds for new hospitals. However, with more than 250 hospitals now using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, may I suggest that the moral of this story is to beware of hospitals with marketing departments.


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