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Social Media In The Operating Room: A Good Or Bad Idea?

Social Media In The Operating Room: A Good Or Bad Idea?

It has become commonplace.  People everywhere have their faces constantly buried in their cellphones.  Even when I am standing in an elevator, I notice that people are staring at their phones even though they can’t possibly have any service!  Social media has exploded.  People assess their personal or professional value based on “likes” and “followers.”  We use things like Instagram and Facebook not only to interact with our friends but also peek into the lives of millions of strangers.  It should come as no surprise that this trend has made its way into the offices of plastic surgeons.  We now have health care providers with thousands – even millions – of followers on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.  I remember when I started seeing video clips coming from the operating room.  That is when I started to wonder: are we going too far?

The argument against…

  • Safety: Even in a consumer market like aesthetic medicine, we are still first and foremost healthcare providers. That demands uncompromised dedication to patient care. When a doctor is with his or her patient, that patient deserves undivided attention.  By posting a video in the middle of a surgery, the surgeon may be giving the misleading impression that he or she is paying more attention to the camera than to the patient.  If they’re not focused entirely on the patient, are they more prone to making an error?  Are they adding unnecessary time under anesthesia?  Are the staff members assisting the surgeon distracted from their tasks and therefore prone to errors themselves?
  • Professionalism: Many people think that this burgeoning supply of operating room videos on social media serves to lower the image of a plastic surgeon to something of a carnival showman. These videos can take away from the serious nature of what plastic surgeons do to restore form and and improve the quality of life of their patients.
  • Misleading information: Showing results on the operating room table is not always an honest representation of what a patient can expect for long-term results. In most cases, the final result of a procedure will not be appreciated for several months.  For example, showing results of a Brazilian butt lift (fat transfer to the buttocks) in the operating room sets the viewer up for false expectations as much of the fat that is transferred will be resorbed over time.
  • Compromising a sterile field: Some providers bring up concerns that use of a cell phone so close to the operative field might unnecessarily increase the risk of contamination and infection.

The argument for…

  • Patient education: Patients often fear the unknown. An informed patient is therefore an empowered and confident patient.  Many people are visual learners.  By having access to raw footage from the operating room, patients can learn more than they can from a conversation or brochure.  Viewers also gain insight into how the doctor is and can even interact by sending questions.  Furthermore, in teaching centers around the world, attending surgeons frequently pause during surgery for teaching points to residents and students.  Social media is simply changing the audience from residents to patients.
  • Professionalism: Making a video during a surgery does not excuse a surgeon from performing duties consistent with the highest standards of patient safety.  The same rules of operating room accreditation and board certification still apply.  Practices like the “time out” – a safety checklist that occurs at the beginning of surgery – are still performed.  These videos also do not take the surgeon’s attention away from attaining the best result possible for his or her patient.
  • Remaining Current with Technology: Like it or not, social media has become a principle thoroughfare of communication in today’s world. To ignore that would be to stay behind the times and out of touch with the patient population.  Using social media to educate, without compromising patient safety, is simply keeping up with the times.

In my opinion..

I have dear friends and colleagues who regularly pause during surgery to make videos for social media.  These are conscientious and skilled surgeons.  These are surgeons for whom I have a great deal of respect.  I do not believe they are compromising patient care.  In their eyes they are providing a valuable service to educate patients on what the whole experience entails.  I make videos in the operating room.  However, I choose NOT to make videos where I stop operating to turn and talk to the camera.  That is not a judgement on those that do.  It is simply a personal choice.  I think the most appropriate approach is a discussion with a patient that is honest and transparent. As long as putting the patient first and behaving professionally remain the priorities, I see nothing wrong with those who choose to engage in making these videos in the OR.

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