Can Twitter Help Save Lives? A Health Care Social Media Case Study, Part I

This case study is the first of a two part series. The information below reflects the events of April 25th, 2011 from a human standpoint, without critical regard to process or tactical considerations, or future implications, which will be covered in Part II.

Social media and health care, the conundrum of all conundrums. While social media facilitates a quickness and level of transparency that contrasts starkly with the inherently private nature of health care, there are moments and glimpses that show us that the two can coexist, and quite effectively. Because much of what I do here at Emory Healthcare involves social media, I’m an advocate for its use and believe in the benefits of social media for health care organizations. To name a few, social media breaks down geographic barriers to traditional support groups. It allows us to keep important health and wellness factors top of mind. We can use social media to discuss health news and innovations in real time or solve problems for patients, families, and communities looking for a quick solution, or an outlet and set of ears to listen. In all of these cases, social media proves time and time again to be a trusted source for getting answers, engaging with peers and businesses, and resolving problems. On April 25th, I had a chance to participate in a social media dialogue that will forever impact my life, and potentially the realm of health care social media.

At 11:06 am on April 25, we received a tweet from Matthew Browning, who was playing a critical role in helping his wife and family in getting through a crisis situation. The tweet read as follows, “@emoryhealthcare NEED HELP NOW!! Grandma w/ RUPTURED AORTA needs Card Surgeon/OR ASAP, STAT! can you accept LifeFlight NOW!!?”

Tweet from Matthew Browning to Emory Healthcare

While much of our social media is proactive and conversational, when we receive a tweet like Matthew’s, everything changes. We must immediately throw out the process flowcharts, remove all barriers, and act. Instantaneously, things shift into high gear and a number of contacts in a variety of departments are contacted to get the right information as quickly as possible. Within minutes, we tweeted back to Matthew, “@MatthewBrowning Matthew, please either call 911 or have your grandma’s doctor call our transfer service to get immediate help: 404-686-8334.”

Response tweet from Emory Healthcare to Matthew Browning

What was most important here was giving Matthew information he could act on. When using Twitter, messages can only be 140 characters, so it was critical to include the most necessary information for him to get immediate assistance. The reason we provided the number for the transfer service will be discussed in detail in part two of the case study.

Four minutes later, at 11:21 am, Matthew responded, “@emoryhealthcare We are doing that! She is in small South Georgia hosp right now- but needs MAJOR help- We are calling, thanks!” We responded “@MatthewBrowning keep us posted & please let us know if there is anything else we can do to help. We’re keeping you both in our thoughts.” Matthew sent a tweet one minute later, “@hospitalpolicygrp @emoryhealthcare Thank you for your help!” Followed by “@emoryhealthcare Look for STAT Transfer from South Georgia, accept her if able and we’ll see you soon Thanks!”

Emory Healthcare Matthew Browning Twitter dialogue

16 minutes later, at 11:41 am Matthew’s wife’s grandmother was on a lifeflight to Emory. “@emoryhealthcare Thank you for accepting her- She is on the LifeFlight to you now- Bless you all and Thank you!!”

Tweet Matthew Browning to Emory Healthcare - On LifeFlight

Our dialogue with Matthew on Monday continued on through the day, and not all of the tweets we received or sent are included above, but if that doesn’t show you the power of social media, I don’t know what will. It’s true that the same outcome may have taken place if it had not been for social media. But when a life is hanging in the balance and minutes, not hours make the difference, the risk of ignoring technology such as social media to intervene and save a life is one we’re not willing to take. As Matthew mentioned when I spoke with him via phone on Tuesday, “when you’ve got a ruptured aorta as a diagnosis, you can’t think. You gotta just move.”

And move he did. As a Registered Nurse and founder of Your Nurse is On, a health care staffing application, Matthew’s circle of health care peers and friends is not a small one. Using Twitter, email, and LinkedIn, he was able to make more contacts in minutes than anyone could in hours with traditional technologies. At the same time, phone calls were being made from the hospital trying to find a hospital to transfer his wife’s grandmother to, “we got lots of nos,” Matthew told me Tuesday. Thankfully, in this case we were able to be there. When he reached out to us via Twitter our team had the ability and capacity to help. “We group-sourced something to people with a common interest and achieved a medical miracle,” Matthew said.

Emory Healthcare able to accommodate patient via Twitter

Response to Matthew Browning

While HIPAA and patient privacy considerations are of the utmost priority when it comes to any health care related dialogue, there are moments in which common sense and the willingness and desire to save a life has to take a front seat. He recalled that when his wife’s grandmother was on her way via lifeflight, a surgeon had been lined up, but a bed had not. But in times of crisis, like he says, you just move. And like Matthew moved to make contact with his network in minutes, our team of physicians, nurses, and staff moved to make sure our patient was accommodated. “That’s the pace of health care,” he says.

In this case, health care and social media not only coexisted, but mirrored each other in pace to keep alive the possibility of saving a life.  Without the quickness of social media, that helicopter may have never been dispatched. It’s our commitment and our passion in health care to do everything we can to make sure the things we can control go well. On April 25, Twitter was a tool we used to help make that happen.

Very unfortunately, we learned from Matthew via Twitter that his wife’s grandmother passed away on Monday evening. He told us “@emoryhealthcare Thank You for your valiant efforts on behalf of our Grandmother – your team is awesome and their compassion unrivaled- thx“.
Matthew Browning to Emory Healthcare - thank you

We are and will continue to keep Matthew, his wife, and their family members in our hearts and thoughts. When I spoke to him on Tuesday, though, he had a humbling peace about him, as though he knew everything possible was done. The series of events that took place on Monday, April 25 were no doubt humbling and powerful for all of us involved. This experience has shown us what we already believed, that social media has the power to truly change the landscape of health care and impact and potentially save individual lives because of it.

Thank you to Matthew Browning and his wife, Phoebe, for reaching out a hand and for the dedication, care, and love they have shown us and the health care community despite tremendously chaotic circumstances. Welcome to our Emory Healthcare family.

Related Links

Can Twitter Help Save Lives? A Health Care Social Media Cast Study, Part II

Twitter Emory Healthcare on Twitter
Twitter Matthew Browning on Twitter

Author: Morgan Griffith, Interactive Marketing Manager, Emory Healthcare

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  • Deb, RN

    Even though I thoroughly enjoy and utilize social media, have always maintained an undercurrent of doubt as to the potential intensity of serious outcomes unique to it…. UNTIL NOW. Having witnessed this crisis as it unfolded and the results, especially to someone familiar, was an epiphany.

    Despite my fascination with this experience, am still very sad for Matt and his family…. that they even needed to go through this, not to mention the final outcome. But, as noted….. there is a certain brand of peace that comes from knowing one has done absolutely everything to intervene. No regrets. Awesome.

    • Morgan Griffith


      Thank you so much for this feedback. I am in agreement with you. This situation demonstrated for so many that social media can in fact play an important life saving role in health care. Matthew is an inspiration to all of us. His quick thinking and willingness to use any means necessary to get help is truly moving.

      Our thoughts are also with Matthew and his family. But like you said, no regrets. It was an amazing effort on all fronts.

      Thank you again,

  • Me

    Sorry, this is PR nonsense. Twitter and the response via Twitter did not save this person’s life, the fact that the person finally called 911 is what made the difference. If anything, this person’s use of Twitter, instead of 911, risked the patient’s life.

    • Morgan Griffith

      Sorry to hear that’s how you feel about what those involved see as quite the opposite. Matthew can probably tell you better than I can (& surely, he’ll comment on this), but there was certainly no PR (or otherwise) nonsense about this.

      If you read the case study, you’ll find that 911 was actually not the source of resolution. Matthew in fact called the phone number we provided to him via Twitter to get a transfer, and that’s how the airlift took place.

      Tons of people were behind this effort, both via social media and in-person. Twitter was one of many ways a transfer was sought out, and just so happens to be the one that worked.

      I’ll let Matthew speak to the details here. Thank you for your feedback,

  • healthcare failure

    What this really showed is the failure to have a regional one point of access to medical care. The fact that he had to resort to twitter is both frightening and I hope doesn’t mean that hospitals are now going to be held accountable 24/7 to monitoring every tweet with their name in it? In the future are you suggesting this is a new referral method? I sure hope not.

    • Morgan Griffith

      Your points are definitely valid. I agree that there certainly needs to be a more accessible means to find emergency care on a regional level. And to your points, with this particular post, our intent was not to suggest that organizations necessarily be held accountable 24/7 or begin using social media as a referral method, but to share the story itself and to get a dialogue going around the topic, much like what you’ve contributed here. Thank you for your feedback. Part II will cover a lot of the points you’ve brought up.

  • James Ellington

    Wow, now this really gives testimony to technology and the power of social media/networking!
    Great Tweet!

  • john

    A fascinating story and a valuable insight to how social media and health care can merge and morph into something that is difficult to see today.

    When will Part II be published?

  • @MatthewBrowning

    Wow! What an incredible week. Sorry for the delayed replies but it has been very hectic since Grandmother’s passing. She is now reunited with her maker, no longer in pain and finally at peace. The circle of life continues though she is, and will continue to be forever missed by us all.

    Morgan- WOW! What can I say…Thank you for your willingness to engage a desperate tweet, your ability to switch from responding with basic, logical, advisory tweets to “call 911″ to GENUINE engagement in the crisis, your incredibly swift notification of Emory’s team, your continued interest in the situation as it unfolded, your compassionate comforting at the moments of our Grandmother’s death and, perhaps most importantly of all, your follow through in taking the time to painstakingly reconstruct a very frantic twitter stream into this moving chronology and case study to tell the story and learn the lessons of this experience. Your efforts are all commendable and extraordinary actions of a wonderful human being- I thank you and your team from the bottom of my heart!

    I am comforted by the fact that, despite our efforts and wishes to the contrary, Grandmother’s death occurred while she was surrounded by her loved ones and while she was receiving the highest quality emergency interventions from the expert team at Emory Healthcare.

    The response of @EmoryHealthcare to our desperate pleas on twitter reaffirmed our belief that this nation’s healthcare system is manned by those with a genuine compassion, concern and empathy for their current patients, future patients and their families- I, and our entire family, Thank You all from the bottom of our hearts and applaud your quick thinking, your willingness to engage and your meticulous follow through in this time of crisis.

    The resolve of Morgan Griffith and the entire Emory team to learn from this incident, together with us, is a testament to their dedication and a fitting memorial to our beloved Grandmother. She may have been the first case of a critically ill patient being transferred to an emergency operative theater via twitter, but she undoubtedly will not be the last. It is imperative, if not requisite, that we take the time to review what happened, explore how it may have happened differently and how we can make this approach: A) expected; B) acceptable; and C) something which healthcare organizations are prepared to deal with in a professional manner.

    Deb, Thank you for your kind words, condolences and comments- They mean a lot to us!

    “Me”- I am amazed by your anger and your complete lack of understanding of the situation- If you thoroughly read the article you will understand that Grandmother was already in a hospital that was unable to perform the life saving surgery that she needed. After many unsuccessful attempts, by them, to find a suitable hospital to LifeFlight her to- I began to desperately search for possibilities by email, LinkedIn and Twitter. Twitter resulted in our conversation with Emory (@EmoryHealthcare on Twitter), who provided crucial information that allowed a very safe LifeFlight transfer to occur there in a last-minute attempt to save her life. Simply an amazing story of momentary triumph and tragic family loss, and not even close to the “PR nonsense” that you ignorantly imply. It is an inspiring story of human compassion facilitated by new communication methods. P.S. she died fighting for her life, 911 had ZERO to do with it and I ‘thank you’ for your kind words of support and condolence to my family…

    “Healthcare Failure” – in part 2 we are going to explore the mechanics, processes and possibilities for multi-channel healthcare communications that can save patients lives, facilitate care delivery and, yes, propose new possibilities- contrary to your concerns, I hope we can evolve to include these communications as part of our care repertoire.

    James & John, It was truly an amazing story to be involved in- uncertainty, desperation and a determination to intervene resulting in the utilization of untried, unproven and unconventional means to secure an emergency cardiac operating theater, surgeon, team and recovery bed for a loved one with an unexpected success via twitter- truly an amazing set of events. We look forward to learning more from part two as well, thanks for your involvement.

    I simply MUST take a moment, once again, and thank Morgan Griffith, Emory Healthcare and everyone who offered their assistance, expertise and compassion to help save our Grandmother’s life. It was an unexpected, emergent and, obviously, life-threatening situation that required immediate intervention and you all selflessly participated IN SPITE of the obvious risks of doing this via social media- for this, I am forever in your debt and extend my deepest and sincerest gratitude to all of you who accompanied me and my family through this ordeal.

    With renewed faith in healthcare’s humanity, thank you all,

    @MatthewBrowning MSN, RN, CEO

  • Dave Waghorn

    What a truly strange healthcare system you have in the USA. Makes me very glad to be living in the UK with the brilliant National Health Service. You guys should pay more attention to President Obama and Michael Moore, your existing health system is clearly in a mess.

  • Fred

    Dave…So how would this situation play out under NHS?

    When a patient in Hospital A needs a highly-specialized emergency surgery not available there, is there a single clearinghouse that can be called to determine where they should be transferred? Because it’s not enough to know that Hospital B performs that surgery–they have to be ready to accept the patient and perform the surgery. It’d be pretty bad if the surgeon that was needed was away at a conference or something.

  • Deborah Williams

    I am sitting here, reading this incredible story..and I am practically in tears. I KNOW-after almost 20years as an RN/NP, that Emoryhealthcare has the experience, expertise and “gumption” to do the right thing. What moves me most about this story is the level of compassion extended to Matthew and his family. I think of my own family…and what would I have done in this situation..would I hve been able to think with such clarity under such emotional chaos? Would I hve been able to even remember my personal and professional contacts under such cirucmtances? I’d like to think so. But right now my heart is pounding, maybe even has skipped a beat or two! I am feeling….so full of ….”something”….but, what? I am now recalling something my colleagues are aways saying about me..”you care too much…stay in you own lane!”. I am sooo VERY happy that Emoryhealthcare DID NOT stay in their own lane! In my humble opinion, compasion and a dedication to doing what is right is always THE thing to do..even when that “thing” is not the most popular or easy. It only takes ONE to make the difference, to say YES!! No doubt about it, EMORYHEALTHCARE ROCKS! …after all, why else would I stick around???

    • Morgan Griffith

      Deborah, thank you so much for your very kind words. It is an incredible story, and I can certainly relate to and understand being on the verge of tears. I love this statement of yours:

      I KNOW-after almost 20years as an RN/NP, that Emoryhealthcare has the experience, expertise and “gumption” to do the right thing. What moves me most about this story is the level of compassion extended to Matthew and his family.

      I too am consistently impressed with the level of integrity, dedication, “gumption” (GREAT word), and willingness to help in the most trying of times that is displayed by the Emory Healthcare team each and every day. These trying circumstances often require that we make a choice, but being driven fundamentally by compassion and a true innate desire to help others is what makes a decision that may not be the most popular, an easy one.

      Thank you again so much for your feedback, your like-minded perspective on helping and caring for people, and for being part of our Emory Healthcare family. I really appreciate your feedback.