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CLIENT: AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Sept. 27, 2010: Physician's Money Digest
Physicians looking to expand their patient base and branch out beyond the physical walls of their practice should look no further than their local radio stations. Participation in a call-in show, or regularly broadcast program of a similar format, can go a long way toward enabling physicians to reach new patients while providing a valuable service to the community.
“It was a great educational tool which led to tremendous branding and marketing of our services,” says Keith Vrbicky, MD, a practicing OB/GYN in Norfolk, Nebraska and founder of American Educational Telecommunications, of the “Ask the Doc” radio show he and his colleagues participated in for many years. “It led to a tremendous increase in new patients.”
It’s not as time-consuming as you might think.
For years, Vrbicky and his colleagues at Midwest Health Partners, P.C., participated in a weekly, one-hour radio program in northeast Nebraska. The show was temporarily suspended due to a change in management at the station, but its return to the airwaves is imminent. Vrbicky says that not only did Midwest’s physicians in all specialties enjoy the experience, they also found it was not a time-consuming endeavor -- perhaps no more than a few hours of preparation.
“These are things that we share with patients every day in our offices,” says Vrbicky of the program’s content. “As physicians it’s our responsibility to not only diagnose problems but to educate the patient about their health condition. So, I always viewed [the radio program] as being in front of a patient and interacting with them by answering their questions. I treated them like any patient in my exam room.”
Vrbicky’s program would focus on a different health topic each week, such as heart disease or osteoporosis. Listeners were encouraged to phone in with their questions, and they did in droves. And over the years, he found that -- thanks in part to the availability of information via the Internet -- healthcare consumers are well informed.
“Their questions are more sophisticated, which is good,” Vrbicky says. “That can only improve healthcare -- the way we can deliver it, and how we can prevent illnesses and treat them.”
Derrick M. DeSilva Jr., MD, is a practicing internist at the Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, N.J. Twenty years ago, he began doing a one-hour weekly radio program on Saturday mornings on WCTC 1450 AM called “Ask the Doctor.” In the last two years, he added a one-hour Monday through Friday radio program on HealthRadio.net, and a weekly television program on News 12 New Jersey called “12 to Your Health.” The key to his successful balancing act, he says, is time management. But echoing Dr. Vrbicky, he says the preparation time is minimal.
“The stuff I talk about is stuff I do every day,” DeSilva says. “It’s not like I’m doing a financial show on reverse mortgages, which I know nothing about. I’m talking about stuff I know.”
DeSilva, who began doing his “Ask the Doctor” show after serving as a guest speaker for the American Heart Association on a local radio station 21 years ago, says the programs have certainly helped his practice. He stresses, however, that he doesn’t give out his phone number during every commercial break.
“That’s not why I started doing radio,” he explains. “I’m not doing an infomercial. I do it because I love to do it, and people will find you. Twenty years ago, there was a phone book, today there’s the Internet. It’s that simple.”
Vrbicky encourages physicians who are interested in developing a call-in radio program to approach a station in their marketplace with a proposal. “That’s what we did. We wanted to improve patient education across the board, and [the radio station] liked the idea,” he said. The program wasn’t 60 minutes of straight talk; there would be 10- to 15-minute segments, followed by some music or a break for news and weather, then back to the show. “We sat down together with the people at the station, developed the format we thought we best be received by the consumer, and it worked very well,” he said.
DeSilva explains that every radio station is required by law to provide a certain amount of public-service information or public-service programming. He, too, encourages physicians to contact their local radio station and tell them you’d like to do a radio show. “You can even get on the morning drive show and do a Monday medical minute,” he says. “Do those types of things where you become visible, and the people in the community will find you and seek you out.”
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