Background Participation in social networking is commonplace and the micro-blogging site Twitter can be considered a platform for the rapid broadcasting of news stories. Our study aimed to explore the Twitter status updates, and subsequent responses, relating to an obstetric media scandal focused on a number of perinatal deaths which occurred in a small maternity unit in the Republic of Ireland.
Methods A qualitative content analysis method was utilised. A systematic analysis of Twitter status updates, over a three month period from January to March 2014, was undertaken to identify key themes arising in relation to the perinatal deaths. The comprehensive search for relevant tweets was carried out independently by two researchers using terms including the location of the hospital, the name of the programme “fatalfailures” and “rtept” where the story originated, “stillbirth”, “death of a baby”, “perinatal death”, and “maternity”. Individual twitter profiles were reviewed to collect any available demographic information.
Results Our search identified 2,945 tweets relating to the reported perinatal deaths, these included 1,438 (49%) original tweets, 1208 (41%) retweets and 299 (10%) replies. Two thirds of status updates were tweeted by women. Of the individuals who tweeted, 25% worked in media and 23% within politics. Findings revealed that new events were portrayed as an addition to the original story. At the height of the controversy, updates generated scepticism in relation to the management of not only the unit in question, which was branded as unsafe, but the governance of the entire Irish maternity service. Themes of concern and uncertainty arose whereby the professional motives of the obstetric community and staffing levels in the maternity services were called into question.
Conclusion Twitter activity provides a useful insight into the public’s attitudes to health related events. The role of the media in influencing public opinion is well documented and this study underscores the challenges that clinicians face in light of an obstetric media scandal. Further study to identify how the obstetric community could develop tools to utilise Twitter to disseminate valid health information could be beneficial.
- health services
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