Although new medical technology can provide clinicians with superb diagnostic information, the clinical encounter may create significant patient stress and apprehension and lead to a bad overall experience.
Often, clinicians do not understand how a routine procedure such as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan can create so much anxiety.
To improve knowledge of the patient experience another form of technology — Twitter — is helping clinicians track the thoughts and feelings of their patients. While the social networking site is known for breaking news and celebrity tweets, it appears to be a valuable feedback tool for medical professionals.
As explained in a new study that appears in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences, mining and analyzing patient tweets is very informative.
Australian researchers Johnathan Hewis, analyzed 464 tweets related to MRI over the course of one month and 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 categorized into three themes: MRI appointment, scan experience, and diagnosis.
Twitter is a giant in the social media space. In 2014, 19 percent of the entire adult population of the U.S. used Twitter. Because it is so ubiquitous, Twitter can provide crucial new insights to which practitioners would otherwise not be privy.
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,” explained Hewis.
“An appreciation of anxiety related to results is an important clinical consideration for MRI facilities and referrers.”
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.
One particularly memorable tweet about the sound read, “Ugh, having an MRI is like being inside a pissed off fax machine!”
Interestingly, 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.
Another discovery was the use of Twitter to share pictures.
“An unexpected discovery of the examination preparation process was the ‘MRI gown selfie,'” revealed 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.”
Furthermore, patient comments show that little details can make a big impact on patient perceptions. For example, 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,” said Hewis, “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.”
Hewis believes social networks like Twitter offer medical practitioners the opportunity to access previously unavailable information from their patients, which can help them continuously improve the MRI experience.
“MRI patients do tweet about their experiences and these correlate with published findings employing more traditional participant recruitment methods,” concluded 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.”