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Call-in Radio Programs Provide Docs with Professional Satisfaction

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When the legendary Donna Summer sang that “they said it really loud, and they said it on the air, on the radio,” she knew the words she’d heard about her boyfriend’s feelings had to be true. After all, it was said on the radio. Today, physicians are sending a similar, truthful message, though not necessarily about the feelings we have for our loved ones. Instead, doctors are providing listeners and listener call-ins with useful medical information—often helping individuals “open up” about an illness or condition they might have been hesitant to speak about face to face. The airwaves are also providing physicians with another vehicle for reaching out to healthcare consumers.

When the legendary Donna Summer sang that “they said it really loud, and they said it on the air, on the radio,” she knew the words she’d heard about her boyfriend’s feelings had to be true. After all, it was said on the radio.

Today, physicians are sending a similar, truthful message, though not necessarily about the feelings we have for our loved ones. Instead, doctors are providing listeners and listener call-ins with useful medical information—often helping individuals “open up” about an illness or condition they might have been hesitant to speak about face to face. The airwaves are also providing physicians with another vehicle for reaching out to healthcare consumers.

“It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to be on the radio and have someone call and ask a question that I’m pretty sure they have not asked anybody, and certainly not their physician,” explains Kimberly DeOre, an internist at the Murray Hill Medical Group and a faculty member at the NYU School of Medicine, who can be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio’s recently launched Doctor Radio. “Breaking through to that person and having them let down their guard, as a physician, it really makes you feel great.”

Not necessarily new

Although Doctor Radio made its debut just this year, physicians have recognized the power of radio and the opportunity it provides for quite some time. Stuart Fischer, MD, a Manhattan-based general practitioner and the author of the recently released The Park Avenue Diet (Random House, 2008), is a radio veteran of 16 years. He currently broadcasts a regular weekly Wednesday segment called “Ask the Doctor” for radio station KQDS-FM in Duluth, Minnesota.

Despite his success, Fischer says, “I’m a little ambivalent about the phenomenon [of call-in radio] because I wonder whether it takes away from people actually going to an office and being taken care of by a physician. There’s no substitute for that.”

And Fischer recognizes the power that radio possesses. He explains that it’s important for doctors on the radio to speak the people’s language, and will regularly listen to the station he’s on for several minutes before his segment airs so that he can “hear what the world sounds like around the radio station. I listen to the commercials, so I know how to change my vocabulary—whether to use technical language or not. Those things are important in person, but they’re supremely important in radio because people can’t see you. Words and inflections are everything.”

New kid on the block

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DeOre, on the other hand, is experiencing her broadcast baptism on Doctor Radio, and says that the first several weeks were filled with anxiety. “I think there was this thought that if you’re on the radio, you’re somehow an expert on everything and you have to know all the answers,” she explains. “But it’s the same thing that happens in your office. If someone comes in and says ‘I’m having pain; what should I do about it?’ you make suggestions on what they can do.”

Regardless of how the information is presented, physicians are still dispensing advice on the radio, and DeOre says she believes that both Sirius and NYU Langone Medical Center, which powers the call-in broadcast, contribute to a liability policy for participating physicians.

DeOre says that her experience on the radio, albeit brief, has opened a new door for her. She explains that in her office, there are many times when she would like to spend more time with a patient to further probe what they might be feeling or experiencing. “But the way medicine is today, you just don’t get that amount of time,” she says. “So in many ways I felt short-changed as a physician because I didn’t have time to explore all the options. The radio is an avenue where you can spend more time on the phone speaking with someone.”

Patients more open

DeOre says she is pleasantly surprised at how patients—men, in particular—are so willing to open up when speaking on the phone. When she asks if they’ve spoken with their doctor about their problem, she often hears, “I don’t feel it’s the right environment for me to let my guard down and say this to him.” And there have been other eye-openers.

“I’ve learned that the bulk of the Sirius listening audience is people who commute,” says DeOre. “A lot of truckers who drive long distances, they listen, and then decide [the topic is] something they want to discuss with the doctor. And for me to give them a glimmer of that might be going on or point them in a direction to help themselves, that gives me as much if not more satisfaction than sitting in my office and seeing patients who are already comfortable talking to me.”

Ed Rabinowitz is a veteran healthcare writer and reporter. He welcomes comments at edwardr@ptd.net.


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