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Better Brain Scans? Thank Twitter

Researchers turn to tweets in order to make MRIs a more positive experience for patients.

MRI of Johnathan Hewis' brain: "Had a lovely nap in the MRI machine (very awkward)." // via Jonathan Hewis

Getting an MRI can be a stressful—and not just because of the physical experience of being placed into a cramped, uncomfortable scanning machine. There’s also the psychological pressure of knowing that you’re getting the procedure done in the first place because of some sort of medical necessity. To get an MRI is, in other words, entirely—understandably!—nerve-wracking. To help alleviate the stress involved in getting scanned, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: Twitter.


In a paper to be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences, Johnathan Hewis, who works out of Australia’s Charles Sturt University, details the process by which he and his team analyzed hundreds of MRI-related tweets over the course of a month, and used their findings to help improve the overall experience of patients slated to be scanned. A press release on the researcher’s findings explained:

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!"

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.

All told, Hewis and his team pored over more than 450 MRI-centric tweets. Why tweets? Because of Twitter’s near-ubiquity in the social media sphere, explained the release. By tracking tweets over the course of several weeks, Hewis could observe the changes in attitude a patient might have as their MRI date approaches. He said that:

“[t]he 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. An appreciation of anxiety related to results is an important clinical consideration for MRI facilities and referrers.”

Among the more actionable conclusions the researchers were able to draw from the study was the importance of music in the MRI procedure. “Music choice is a simple intervention that can provide familiarity within a 'terrifying' environment,” he explained in the release. “The findings of this study reinforce the 'good practice' of enabling patients' choice of music, which may alleviate procedural anxiety.”

Ultimately, while these may be simple, and perhaps even obvious takeaways, Hewis hopes his research may not only help orient the medical field toward better addressing patients’ feelings and apprehensions, but also highlight Twitter itself as a valuable tool to do so. He wrote: “This study demonstrates the potential use of Twitter as a viable platform to conduct research into the patient experience within the medical radiation sciences.”

So, if you’ve got an MRI scheduled for sometime down the road, and want to do everything you can to have a more positive experience once you’re strapped in and getting scanned? Well, better start tweeting today.

[via medical daily]

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