Tweeting for Healthier Hearts

Tweeting for Healthier Hearts

Twitter and smartphone apps are circulating the word about February’s Heart Month, educating as well providing emergency resources for everyday people.

Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.

A heart surgeon tweeted while performing a patient’s double-coronary artery bypass, but it was not a case of distracted dissecting — the whole operation was designed to create awareness of Heart Month and educate millions on the delicate, but common, procedure.

Two doctors conducted the 57-year-old patient’s heart surgery, carrying out very special operations during the procedure. Dr. Michael Macris, medical director of cardiovascular surgery at Memorial Hermann Northwest in Houston held the scalpel, while Dr. Paresh Patel held the smartphone, posting the first live tweets, photos and even answering live questions from followers of the groundbreaking event.

The hospital then created a social documentary of the event, called a “storify,” beginning with pictures and information of the patient, who isn’t visible but consented to the project, being wheeled into the operating room.

The documentation is graphic, but informative. For example, near the end of the procedure, Dr. Patel tweets, “Dr. Macris has located the other diseased vessel and is sewing end of the saphenous vein to it — beyond the diseased area.” Pictures and short videos illustrating the technique accompanied the posting.

The Twitter broadcast ends with information on the patient’s expected recovery, which viewers learn is between four and seven days in the hospital. The short time it takes to see the process conveyed a lot of information, and the original broadcast and released storify help cultivate a better understanding of what a double-bypass looks like under the bright lights of the operating room.

In addition to creating awareness about heart surgery, medical apps can give some basic information to empower regular people on what to do in emergency situations while waiting for an ambulance.

According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac arrest because they don’t know CPR or their training has lapsed. Luckily, digital tools help bridge the gap between the desire to help out and the knowledge of what to do.

Jim Schatzle, a veteran paramedic who trained thousands in CPR, created the $2 “Team Life CPR” to allow friends, relatives and bystanders to take action in those vital first few minutes. Since four out of five sudden cardiac arrests happen at home and have only a 5 percent survival rate, Schatzle created the app to educate more people about CPR to increase survival rates.

This app, likened to a cyber-EMT standing over the user’s shoulder, provides CPR guides for users, with step-by-step visual and audible prompts, including counting compressions and giving instructions. The app is also promoted as a good refresher for those trained in CPR and is available for Apple, Android and Blackberry smart phones and tablets.

Other digital tools can help avoid the emergency scenarios by fostering prevention and awareness.

Macaw, a free wireless application from the U.S. Preventative Medicine’s partnership with Qualcomm, suggests changes to daily routines like recommending extending exercise periods or walking faster. The Macaw app connects to a person’s health information, includes risk factor alerts along with how to reduce them and is available for iOS and Android users.

The Tinke app and device, introduced at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show is another mobile heart health tool in the works to measure blood oxygen levels, as well as breathing and heart rates.

The biometric monitoring device, unveiled by Singapore-based Zensorium, connects to iOS devices via the dock connector. Users place a finger into the dongle’s lens, which then analyzes blood vessels on the fingertip using LED and infrared sensors.

The companion Tinke app analyzes the data it receives from the device and provides a general baseline score, called the Vita Index, and users can share and compare their results on a social network site created especially for the app, comparing stats with other users in the same demographic.

Macaw and Tinke represent a new frontier of self-monitoring health apps and devices, including a blood pressure cuff that plugs into an iPhone or iPad and the “Instant Heart Rate” app, which passed the 10 million download mark late last year.

The first-ever live-tweeting of heart surgery and these heart-health apps demonstrate mobile technology’s focus on prevention and education. These mobile advancements can serve as a good companion for anyone looking to get more general information about heart surgery, and can even provide some specific information about people’s own heart health.

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