Better MRI through Twitter?

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 - Social Media

“Stop taking away my Constitutional rights you facist [sic] insurance companies. I want my MRI!”

A sign spotted in a protest march? No—a tweet documented in a medical study.

Johnathan Hewis, MSc, of Charles Sturt University in Australia, analyzed several hundred tweets mentioning MRI during May 2015 in an in-depth, qualitative content analysis.

The work is running in the current edition of the  Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences.

Hewis extracted a total of 6,471 tweets, winnowing the field to 464 that met various inclusion and/or exclusion criteria.

He then categorized the expressions according to three themes—being scheduled as an important milestone in the patient journey, undergoing the scan and understanding MR as a diagnostic tool vis-à-vis expectations and/or perceptions of the technology’s value.

Along the way to concluding that Twitter holds substantial potential to prove “a viable platform to conduct research into patient experience within the medical radiation sciences,” Hewis collected some colorful communiques under all three themes.


  • Scheduling: “…getting old is a pain in the ass. Today was a pulmonary test. Tomorrow’s a cardiac stress test. Sunday’s an MRI. Arghhh too much!!”
  • Getting scanned: “The MRI machine broke on a patient right before I went in. So now I have to wait another 45 minutes. Noooo …” From a different patient: “Now in MRI waiting room … It’s just me, a lot of sick people … help me”
  • Understanding the tool: “Breast MRI to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. Positive thoughts, prayers, lighting a candle, and goat sacrifice are appreciated.”

In his study discussion, Hewis cites the extensive literature on patient anxiety around the MRI experience.

In contrast to concerns recorded in previous studies, he notes, the tweets were light on complaints of claustrophobia.

He theorizes that patients who experienced claustrophobia may have been less inclined to broadcast their experience online or were otherwise not captured within the search parameters.

Hewis acknowledges several limitations to his study, chief among them the selection bias inherent in social media and Twitter’s 140-character limit, which hinders in-depth or nuanced verbal exchanges.

Additionally, the use of a solitary researcher “may contribute further selection and interpretation bias; however, coding consistency was easy to achieve,” he writes.

The study “demonstrates that MRI patients do tweet about their experiences and that these correlate with published findings using more traditional participant recruitment methods,” Hewis writes.

The platform may thus offer healthcare providers worthwhile insights into improving the patient experience—and many of the patients behind the 464 tweets hope so.

“At least the loud machine gun noise of the MRI machine drowned out the terrible music on the headphones,” tweeted one.

Then again, others are not only satisfied patients but also delighted over-sharers.

“Some rad pics from my MRI,” tweeted one to introduce his MR images. “This is the coolest thing ever!”