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"Relatives Are Left Alone In Front Of Their Computer Screens"

"Twitter" in the Operating Theatre: "Relatives are left alone in front of their computer screens"


Photo: Hartwig Bauer

Professor Hartwig Bauer; © DGCH

What used to be a secret journal is today a public Blog. One can find more and more private and personal information on the internet that is accessible to everyone. In the USA, there are even hospitals that give live accounts of every incision made in an operation, on the internet.

Professor Hartwig Bauer is the General Secretary of the German Association for Surgery and he is very critical about “Twitter” in the operating theatre. spoke to him about the on-screen commentaries from doctors, relatives worries and DVD parties at home. Mr. Bauer, the Web 2.0 generation obviously can’t do without internet any more. Some people can’t even be without “Twitter” during an operation. Is this the start of a new trend?

Hartwig Bauer: It is right that for more and more people, the internet has become a part of everyday life. However, I doubt that “Twitter” from the operating theatre is very widely spread. In some hospitals in the USA, it is actually the case that one can follow brief statements during the course of an operation, live on the internet. That is though, still a manageable number of hospitals. I wouldn’t speak of a trend here. Is it beneficial for relatives to get a report on every incision that`s been made in an operation?

Bauer: No, because a medical layman can barely judge what is going on in the operating theatre. Another doctor could maybe classify what a heavier bleeding, that had just started, could mean. Relatives without expert medical knowledge would, on the other hand, be immediately alarmed if they were to find out something like that through the internet, regardless of the fact that the bleeding could have been really dangerous or not. How would the relatives feel if there was suddenly an “intermission” due to difficulties during the operation? But relatives have a right to receive information and “Twitter” is there to inform relatives and account for the overall medical enlightenment.

Bauer: Those are two different things. I think it’s ok if hospitals and doctors give an account of their operation methods over the internet and patients use that to get a general clarification of what’s going on. Of course relatives have the right to receive information, but I don’t think “Twitter” is the right form to convey medical information in a comprehensible way. The number of character displays in a brief statement are limited, therefore, complicated factual topics can't be accurately portrayed. In addition to that, the relatives are left completely alone in front of their computer screens whilst receiving their “Twitter” news and they are not able to ask any questions, should there be anything they don’t understand. Relatives can only receive such information when they speak to a doctor in person. I think it’s not too much to ask to wait until the end of an operation to have such a discussion with the doctor, even by telephone.

Photo: Hands on a cell phone keyboard

Twitter becomes popular more and more; © SXC The people in the USA don’t seem to have such a problem with that. One relative commented: “The time passes quicker when you’re provided with real-time information and not just sitting around in the waiting room.” How do you explain that?

Bauer: That may be the case for several people. I wouldn’t like to generalise here, but would assume that all relatives see it that way. The US-hospitals see “Twitter” as a rather harmless alternative, because prior to “Twitter”, operations were broadcasted live per webcam on the internet. Is there a difference here in the underlying perception between the USA and for example, Europe?

Bauer: It’s hard to say if the perception of the internet and “Twitter” are generally different. So far, it’s only a question of individual cases in the USA. I see a bigger difference between the perception of private and public matters, respectively in the approach to the handling of sensitive Data. If, in the USA, an operation is broadcast via webcam on the internet, the pictures are accessible to everyone. In Germany, however, it is possible to make a DVD recording of your own operation to take home. The patient can then, if he wants, have a private DVD party of his own operation at home. On the other hand, the recording can also be used to claim liability from the insurer, in the case of a supposed error in treatment. What problems do you see with “Twitter”?

Bauer: I’m thinking about the data privacy protection, because “Twitter” news is accessible to a huge audience. In addition, the patient/physician confidentiality and mutual trust is violated, even if the patient gives his consent to “Twitter”. Furthermore, there is a ground rule that one should only speak when necessary in the operating theatre. This rule is breached by “Twitter”, because the surgeon has to make detailed comments on every move he makes. This could disturb his concentration. Do you think that “Twitter” in the operating theatre could also gain popularity in other countries?

Bauer: It’s possible that some hospitals could use “Twitter” as a marketing strategy to stand out from the crowd and draw attention to themselves. I find it hard to imagine though, that “Twitter” in the operating theatre will become a trend.

The interview was conducted by Simone Heimann


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