Twitter allows doctors a peek into patients' minds

Melbourne, Oct 28: Twitter is known for breaking news and celebrity tweets, but it may also prove to be a valuable feedback tool for medical professionals looking to improve the patient experience, a new study says. Johnathan Hewis, an investigator from Charles Sturt University in Australia, analysed 464 tweets related to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) over the course of one month.

MRI can be a stressful experience for many people, but clinicians have few ways to track the thoughts and feelings of their patients regarding this procedure. After analysing the tweets Hewis found that patients, their friends, and family members were sharing their thoughts and feelings about all aspects of the procedure through the microblogging site.


Tweets were categorised into three themes: MRI appointment, scan experience, and diagnosis. In the study, patients expressed anxiety about many aspects of the process, including a lot of stress over the possibility of bad news.

"The findings of this study indicate that anticipatory anxiety can manifest over an extended time period and that the focus can shift and change along the MRI journey," said Hewis.

"An appreciation of anxiety related to results is an important clinical consideration for MRI facilities and referrers," he said. The study found that tweets encapsulated patient thoughts about many other parts of the procedure including the cost, the feelings of claustrophobia, having to keep still during the scan, and the sound the MRI machine makes. Not all the tweets were centered around stress.

Many friends and family members expressed sentiments of support including prayers and offering messages of strength. Some patients used Twitter to praise their healthcare team or give thanks for good results. Others spoke about the fact they liked having an MRI because it gave them some time to themselves or offered them a chance to nap. An unexpected discovery of the examination preparation process was the 'MRI gown selfie,' said Hewis.

"Fifteen patients tweeted a self-portrait photograph taken inside the changing cubicle while posing in their MRI gown/scrubs. Anecdotally, the 'MRI gown selfie' seemed to transcend age," he said.

During the course of his analysis, Hewis discovered that many patients took issue with the fact that they were not allowed to select the music they listened to during the MRI.

"Music choice is a simple intervention that can provide familiarity within a 'terrifying' environment. The findings of this study reinforce the 'good practice' of enabling patients' choice of music, which may alleviate procedural anxiety," said Hewis.

"This study demonstrates the potential use of Twitter as a viable platform to conduct research into the patient experience within the medical radiation sciences," he said. The study was published in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences.


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