What can Social Media Tell us about Medical Errors?

social media.jpgMedical errors are coming to light, 140 characters at a time.

Medical researchers recently analyzed Twitter, the highly popular social media channel that allows users to share brief communications on any subject. The messages are limited to 140 characters. The researchers were looking at Twitter for insights into mistakes by physicians and those who were hurt by them.

Searching Twitter using phrases they determined were linked to medical malpractice and patient safety, researchers included public tweets from 2012 that were in English. The researchers found 1,006 relevant tweets that dealt with either the type of medical error, emotional responses from those affected by the medical error, or a mention of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Tweets That Describe Medical Errors

Over 80 percent of the tweets mentioned the type of medical error made. Of those,

Researchers were able to locate the source of 84 percent of the tweets studied. Of those, 90 percent of the tweets were made by the patients involved. Patient family members comprised another 9 percent of the medical error tweets.

Emotional Responses from Those Who Suffer from Medical Mistakes

How did patients and family members react to the medical errors they tweeted about? Over half (52 percent) sent out a tweet with an emotional message. Broken down further:

  • 47 percent were angry or frustrated
  • 14 percent were sad or grieving
  • 6 percent relayed an intent to file a medical malpractice lawsuit

The researchers concluded that Twitter may be an avenue for health care professionals to identify and communicate with patients who have suffered harm due to a medical error. But this study also reinforces the reality of the damages – both emotional and physical – that medical mistakes can inflict on patients and their families.

While a small number of those involved in this particular study may pursue litigation, all who experience serious harm, including the loss of a loved one, due to an avoidable medical mistake can act on their anger, grief, or frustration. If you are in this tragic situation, you may want to speak with an attorney who handles medical malpractice lawsuits to explore your legal rights.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.