Maybe tweeting surgeries isn't such a bad idea, but what about infection risk?

In past FierceMobileHealthcare columns, I've questioned the value of Twitter. In other forums, I've openly mocked the idea of live tweets of surgeries that a few hospitals have experimented with. But after reading an article in the Miami Herald yesterday, I'm starting to see how the microblogging service can be useful in clinical settings.

That story, about the broader phenomenon of social networking among physicians, opened with an anecdote: "In the waiting room, the patient's family members circled a Blackberry. About every 15 minutes, Dr. Carlos Wolf of Miami Plastic Surgery gave them a few keystrokes of information about how the patient was doing." HIPAA being an issue, Wolf only identifies the patient by first initial and keeps the posts slightly vague to avoid disclosing the exact nature of the procedure.

You know, that's not a bad way to keep up on the progress of a patient in surgery--as long as the tweeting doesn't get in the way of the actual surgery, of course. I could see this application of Twitter not only for those in the waiting room, but for friends and family unable even to make it to the hospital.

Like any responsible surgeon, Wolf says he or a nurse still will step out of the OR and speak to the family in the event of a complication. Let's just hope he's also responsible enough to take off his surgical gloves before tweeting and scrub up afterward. Otherwise, we've got ourselves quite an infection risk.

Does someone in your organization make creative use of Twitter for clinical purposes? If so, how do you guard patient privacy? How do you prevent contamination of keyboards or smartphones? Do you have an organizational policy about Twitter? I'd love to know. - Neil