How Twitter saved lives in post-quake Japan

Two Japanese doctors have told how lives were saved by microblogging site Twitter in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake.

Yuichi Tamura and Keiichi Fukuda told international medical journal The Lancet that the 140-character Internet chatter service helped chronically-ill patients to find life-saving treatment at a time when the country's telephone system and transport infrastructure was crippled by the catastrophic damage caused by the earthquake and resulting tsunami.

"Our patients on continuous-infusion prostacyclin for pulmonary hypertension were a particular concern," wrote the pair. "Forming a supply chain for such drugs in the earliest stages of the disaster was difficult; however, we found that social networking services could have a useful role. In the aftermath of the earthquake, telephone networks were unreliable even in the metropolitan areas. However, the Internet was comparatively stable and thus enabled communication by email, Skype, and Twitter."

Japan has around 1,000 patients suffering from the rare heart disease, which requires daily top-ups of the drug to be pumped directly into a catheter inserted in the neck.

"Twitter has an excellent system for disseminating information to other participants via the 're-tweet' facility. This system facilitates rapid sharing of other participants' messages with all of one's followers, resulting in an exponential proliferation of information dispersal. We were able to notify displaced patients via Twitter on where to acquire medications. These “tweets” immediately spread through patients' networks, and consequently most could attend to their essential treatments."

Essential drugs were delivered to as many as 100 such patients who had been contacted via tweets, using cars and, in one case, a helicopter.