Best live event – external 2016 Article icon

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Robodoc – Operation Kidney
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

When Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust acquired a state-of-the-art £1.9 million da Vinci Xi surgical robot, it wanted to tell the world. But it faced a slight problem that rendered the acquisition less newsworthy: another hospital had got one first.

Inviting key journalists to come and view the robot was also ruled out. Instead, the Trust decided that the best way to promote its new ‘member of staff’ was to show it in action, thereby enhancing its reputation for robotic surgery. (It carries out more than 400 robotic operations a year, more than any other UK hospital.)

By combining a traditional media plan with a unique, social media-driven approach (live streaming the operation with explanatory tweets and pictures), the hospital’s communications team would invite people to virtually scrub up, don their gown and enter the operating theatre.

The success of the operation, however, depended on the patient. Denise Parker, a  54-year-old grandmother, had fallen ill on holiday in Malta with suspected food poisoning. Back in London, doctors discovered she had a cancerous right kidney which needed to be removed. Using the da Vinci Xi, surgeons could perform keyhole surgery and ensure no other organs were damaged.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust joined forces with Worldwide Robotic Surgery Education, an organisation that educates surgeons on the latest techniques. Parker’s surgery was added to the schedule of its second 24-hour Robotic Surgery Event, which involved 11 other hospitals around the world.

The operation was live-streamed on the Worldwide Robotic Surgery Education’s website via a camera in the operating theatre. Key media were briefed and invited to watch the operation. Surgeon Ben Challacombe provided running commentary, and a press officer sent 58 live Twitter updates, which made 47,100 impressions and more than 850 positive engagements. The Evening Standard covered the operation as an exclusive, carrying a video on its website.

The story was also covered by the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, as well as local newspapers in the Trust’s satellite regions. It has since been approached by a BBC production team about a potential series on robotic surgery.

‘This was a hugely creative and innovative approach,’ said the judges. ‘It was extremely well-executed, and achieved a fantastic return-on-investment.’  T