Japan doctors used Twitter to save patient lives

Doctors in Japan used Twitter to reach chronically-ill patients in the wake of the devastating March earthquake and tsunami, telling them where to go to get life-saving treatment after phone networks became unusable. 

In a letter published in The Lancet on Friday, doctors Yuichi Tamura and Keiichi Fukuda said they sent tweets to 60 patients to tell them where to obtain crucial daily refills of a drug to prevent heart failure when they realized they couldn't reach them by phone due to congestion or damage. 

"There are only about 1,000 such patients in all of Japan. It is a rare disease and there are not many hospitals that supply such rare drugs," Tamura, based at the Keio University School Of Medicine cardiology department in Tokyo. 

The patients suffered from pulmonary hypertension and needed once-daily refills of a drug that is pumped into a catheter connected to a vein in their neck. It prevents blood clots and heart failure. 

"We directly contacted 60 patients and they re-tweeted to over 100. Some couldn't reach hospitals because they were living in disaster areas, so we took drugs to them using cars and, in one case, by helicopter." 

Short message services (SMS) and now online social media are increasingly used by healthcare workers around the world to remind patients of appointments and to take their medicines. 

The March 11 quake and ensuing tsunami have left nearly 25,000 dead or missing in Japan.

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