A Dose of Twitter and Grey’s Anatomy

4 Feb

Recently, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, Grey’s Anatomy, when a twist of public relations snuck itself in. First of all, for those who don’t watch Grey’s, it is a show about a group of surgical doctors, residents and interns that work at Seattle Grey’s hospital. In this particular episode, there is a scene where the chief resident is performing a surgery in the operating room. He looks up at his interns (who are watching the surgery) and sees a few are on their cell phones. He immediately yells at them that there is no texting allowed in the operating room. After a second, one hesitant intern responds “sir, we aren’t texting….Dr. Bailey [another doctor in the hospital] is performing a surgery and we are following her on Twitter.”

Twitter! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I have yet to hear a mention of any social media on Grey’s, so it spoke volumes that  Twitter was being referenced. This use of Twitter by the doctors on Grey’s got me thinking about health communication, and I realized they are onto something. While I fully support hospitals using Twitter to help make relationships with the public, the idea of tweeting about patients at the hospital, and not the hospital itself, is a fantastic idea. By posting about patients, it does a few things that can be beneficial to your hospital and its reputation.

First, tweeting about patients puts a human face on your organization. Instead of people reading tweets about your hospital, they are following actual people. This makes followers care more because it creates more of an emotional connection with your tweets. People won’t likely have an emotional connection with “the biggest hospital rooms available” or “the biggest supply of antibiotics”; they will, however, with 6-year-old Lindsey who has to get a liver transplant or 13-year-old Alex with leukemia.

Secondly, tweeting about the patients creates a narrative. By posting updates throughout and after each surgery, it makes a story about the patient that people will want to follow. They will be more inclined to stay tuned if there is more to come, and each tweet will leave them wanting more.

Lastly, tweeting about patients instead of the hospital sends a message. It says,“we care about our patients more than we care about how our hospital looks.” It says that the patients come first. Instead of directly boasting about your hospital, it makes a bold statement about where your hospital’s priorities are. This could contribute to bringing more people to support your hospital, and this is ultimately the goal of using social media.

Upon some further investigation of this tweeting by Dr. Bailey, I found, for all you fellow Grey’s enthusiasts out there, that you can actually follow Dr. Bailey on Twitter through her account, @MirandaBaileyMD. So thank you, Grey’s Anatomy, for tweeting something different. Happy tweeting!

This is a scene from the show. It is not the direct one I referenced above, but it is another one where the chief tries to learn the ropes on Twitter.

**Update** I wanted to address some concerns that recently came up in regard to HIPAA privacy rules. This rule applies to all forms of individuals’ protected health information, whether it is electronic, written, or oral. If hospitals were to tweet about their patients, they would need to first get written consent from the patients undergoing the operation.

7 Responses to “A Dose of Twitter and Grey’s Anatomy”

  1. sarahaasullivan February 13, 2011 at 4:35 PM #


    Wow, using Twitter in a hospital is an idea I’ve never heard before! You’re right, it could be a great idea. Twitter does put a human face on organizations, and pre-op, operation and post-op tweets would certainly create quite an interesting narrative for followers.

    Who, exactly, do you think should be the one actually tweeting? Obviously, a surgeon could be dictating a tweet during a surgery while a nurse actually types the tweet on a cell phone or computer. But should it be the actual surgeon, or maybe the chief of surgery? Maybe even a hospital administrator? And, what kind of social media policies pertaining to Twitter do you recommend that hospitals have? And what about patient confidentiality?

    Like I said earlier, I do think that hospitals tweeting could be a great idea, but it also seems to me like there’s a lot that they’re going to have to figure out before they can start to use Twitter regularly. They’re going to need some strong PR practitioners to guide them in the right direction. Who knows…maybe you’ll be writing a hospital’s social media policy one day!


  2. lkmccarthy February 19, 2011 at 6:44 PM #

    Hi, Larissa,

    How interesting that “Grey’s Anatomy” referenced Twitter. I can understand the usefulness of a surgeon’s updates for interns or other medical students. Also, your analysis of how the patient-based tweets put a human face on the organization and create a narrative for the hospital is valid. However, I have the following thoughts about the actual feasibility of tweeting about patients:
    1) What about the HIPAA Privacy Rule that protects the privacy of an individual’s health information? Do you think tweeting about patients’ operations would violate this?
    2) Do you think that the producers of “Grey’s” were being serious about this concept, or was it a satire on social media (specifically Twitter) use?

    While it seems like a novel idea in theory, I’m not sure I believe it could be reality. Introducing a human element to hospital media would definitely be integral because hospitals are for people after all! However, rather than using Twitter, I think hospital administrators would be more apt to use platforms such as newsletters and their website to share patient stories than Twitter.

    Great post!
    -Lindsey 🙂

  3. kwaymire February 20, 2011 at 6:02 PM #

    The idea of tweeting about patients is intriguing and a great idea for a blog post! It makes me wonder if that might result in a lack of privacy for patients. Many patients may not want the public knowing about their medical status. You made some great points though! Tweeting about individuals people can relate to rather than the facility itself definitely could create more of an emotional connection. This could be a great idea, I think, as long as the privacy guidelines were specified and strictly enforced.

    • larissaf February 22, 2011 at 3:13 PM #

      Your right about the privacy concerns, I didn’t think of that when I wrote this! I looked up HIPAA privacy polices and added a small note at the bottom of my blog. Patients would need to give written consent to hospitals for them to be able to tweet about them so that it wouldn’t violate their privacy. Thanks for your feedback!!

  4. lkmccarthy February 21, 2011 at 11:41 PM #

    Hi, Larissa,

    I found an article about Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s use of social media that I think relates to this issue of hospital Tweets and that you may find interesting. PAMF uses social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to get feedback from patients, share patients’ stories and disseminate information about events and classes. I think the portrayal of Tweeting on “Grey’s Anatomy” differs from Palo Alto’s strategy because @paloaltomedical uses social media platforms to listen to what its patients are saying and to help broadcast stories that patients want shared. Palo Alto also encourages doctors to have online profiles to help introduce themselves to patients and establish personal relationships. It seems like PAMF’s public affairs team is doing a superb job utilizing social media to put a human face on the organization and create narratives that form connections and a community.

    Read the article here: http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/42709.aspx

    Happy Health Communicating!
    -Lindsey 🙂

    • larissaf February 22, 2011 at 3:01 PM #

      Thanks for your great response and insight on Twitter and hospital use! Your concerns about HIPAA got me thinking about if it would violate a patient’s right. I looked it up, and in order for tweeting about patients to work, patients would need to sign a release that allows hospitals to do this. The article you showed me is really interesting and is another way that hospitals can use Twitter. I think that using Twitter is going to become more and more common for hospitals to communicate with audiences.
      In response to whether the producers of “Greys” were serious about this concept, I actually came across and article about tweeting that is very similar to the tweeting methods used on “Grey’s” The article talks about a Detroit hospital that answered questions via tweets during a real time brain surgery. While this is not exactly what is happening in “Grey’s”, it is moving more in the direction of tweeting about actual patients. You can check out the article at http://www.mobiledia.com/news/82375.html. Thanks for all your great response and input, you have gave me some great things to think about 🙂


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