By Alex Strauss
No matter who you are or how great you believe your “pitch” to be, approaching a member of the media (or, in some cases, your own PR department) with a medical story idea can be intimidating.
For one thing, you risk the very real possibility that the person to whom you are explaining your great idea will not “get it” or find it valuable enough to want to share with the public. There is also the natural aversion to making oneself vulnerable to scrutiny or criticism. Most people with potentially valuable information to share – including health professionals – conclude that the risks and hassle are not worth the effort.
But the fact is that the media and the public they serve need what you know – now, more than ever. The advantages of timely, relevant health news for consumers are obvious, but this is about more than public service. By way of encouraging more engagement with your local news providers, here are a few things I believe are “in it” for you, the health professional:
The Four “Ps”
Although no news report could ever match the value of personalized, one-to-one human interaction, when you put a health scare into perspective, recommend a healthy course of action, or explain a new treatment option through the media, you are being a provider on a level that is simply not possible within the walls of the office or hospital.
And unlike the words you say during an office visit, which research suggests are often misunderstood or forgotten within minutes of the appointment, words that are captured in a news article may be broadcast multiple times, repeated, copied, disseminated online, and even referenced again in future stories.
Speaking through the media gives you the opportunity to position yourself as an authority, bolstering trust and credibility among your own patients, as well as among those who may become patients in the future.
When you demonstrate that you are willing to provide your expertise, the media responds in kind by presenting you as an expert source. Fortunately, even if you have never been asked to speak to the press before, it only takes one good interview (during which you offer clear, concise information) or one newsworthy story idea to put you on their radar.
Appearing in a news segment, being quoted in the newspaper or online, or being interviewed on a television or radio show, are ideal ways to help promote your practice and your services, provided that you do not take it too far by being blatantly self-promotional.
In an increasingly competitive healthcare environment, the authority you can establish and the respect you can earn through unpaid media interactions can give you and your practice a competitive edge that simply cannot be achieved through advertising alone.
By establishing good relations with your local health news providers, you are opening what can be an inestimably valuable channel of communication between the medical world and the “real” world. Like doctors, journalists want to uncover truth and serve their audiences.
At a time when the gulf of understanding between patients and providers seems to be widening, in a very real sense, by accepting and working with the media, you can help close it. That is the power of physicians and the press, together.
MED Editor Alex Strauss is a former television health reporter and the author of "Physicians and the Press: A Doctor's Guide to Working with the Media".
 O’Hanluain, Daithi, “Patients forget about two-thirds of doctors’ treatment instructions, says neuropsychologist”, European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, July 2003