by: Sonia Hota
On Wednesday, October 25, IABC London hosted, Lessons learned: the first Canadian live streaming of a kidney transplant. Agnes Bongers, Director of Public Affairs, and Lindsay Whelan, Public Affairs Specialist , both at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, presented an insightful view into the live streaming of a kidney transplant on Facebook, focusing on challenges faced and efforts made to mitigate risks.
So, why live stream a kidney operation? According to Bongers, the financial and personal toll of kidney disease is substantial, with 42,000 Canadians suffering the most serious form on dialysis, at a cost of $700 million a year. With only 1,400 kidney transplants performed in Canada each year, there is a great need for both living and deceased kidney donors.
Presenting the live-streaming campaign’s communication plan, Bongers discussed the importance of having the strategic objectives match those of the organization. Besides raising the profile of St. Josephs, and educating the public about kidney disease, the campaign had to be planned with campaign risks in mind. Such risks included the potential for St. Joseph’s to be publicly regarded as exploitive of the patients or unnecessarily gratuitous by showcasing graphic content. The biggest risk was the possible damage to the hospital’s medical reputation, should either of the patients suffer complications, or die during the procedure.
To address these risks, the communications team of six, led by Bongers, approached the kidney program leadership team and informed them of the possible complications prior to the event. The skilled surgeons were issued a “safe word” to allow them to stop the live streaming at any time during the operation.
The communications team also created many promotional and informative materials related to kidney care that could be used to replace the live stream for any potential time off-air, and posted on the Facebook page before and after the two hour operation. Communications team members observed two kidney transplant operations before the live stream and the operation was story-boarded based on input from the surgeons. On the day of the live stream event, a public relations team member and camera technicians were present in the operating theatre, to respond to any changes or difficulties encountered.
One factor that contributed to the project’s success was the choice of patients- a husband and wife team, Bhargav and Nagamani Turaga.
“Mr. and Mrs. Turaga were approached after the [kidney] care team identified them and we made it clear that they could stop the [campaign] at any time,” said Bongers. She also said the interviews with the Turagas were unscripted for authenticity and the Turagas were naturally concise and to the point, when sharing their story.
As a result of the collaborative and risk mitigating efforts of the communications team and its stakeholders, the campaign was a success. Over 150,000 people viewed the two-hour live stream video on May 10, with comments from almost 3,000 people. The story was also picked up by the CBC National News, CBC Radio, CTV, and the Toronto Star.
“It’s about taking risks, being innovative and breaking down the barriers that exist between organizations and their publics,” concluded Bongers. “Whatever business you are doing, people have got to be the heart of the story.”
And the communications team at St. Joseph’s has demonstrated just that, by successfully engaging its stakeholders and planning and pulling off the first Canadian live streamed kidney transplant in only six weeks.