Friday, April 14, 2006

Podcast From the Heart

Podcast From the Heart

The iPod’s sleek design and status-symbol white earbuds are Gen-X trademarks, but Grayson Wheatley is introducing the audio player to a demographic advertisers forgot: elderly patients with chronic health problems.

Wheatley, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Arizona Heart Institute in Phoenix, recently launched a podcasting series to educate patients he believes is among the first of its kind. He has produced podcasts, from two minutes to an hour long and contain video and audio content, that keep clinic visitors informed about the procedures they'll undergo and brief them on ways to lead a healthy lifestyle afterward.

In the programs, which have titles like "Angioplasty and Plaque Excision" or "Coronary Artery Bypass," AHI physicians describe each step in an operation and its importance as new age music plays in the background. "Endarterectomy," for instance, explains that clearing deposits from the carotid artery reduces stroke risk because excess plaque encourages blood clots to form and lodge in the brain.

Any internet user -- whether an AHI patient or not -- can access the presentations by subscribing to a free podcasting feed or downloading the files directly from the hospital’s website.

Wheatley’s med-tech brainstorm came while listening to his own iPod on a business train trip. "I started thinking, 'Wouldn’t this be a great way for patients to get information about their health?'" he said. After returning home, Wheatley started piecing together scripts for possible podcasts.

Once the initial series of programs was complete, he cleared the stacks of magazines out of his waiting room and replaced them with docked iPods, each with a collection of his podcasts on its hard drive. Office visitors are encouraged to use the iPods as they wait for their appointments to begin and are taught how to download the same podcasts onto their own computers or iPods.

Wheatley views the programs as extensions of patient visits that have been cut increasingly short at the behest of health insurance companies. "When I sit down and talk to someone and say, 'You have heart disease,' they might not know what the consequences are," he said. "The podcasts make that exchange easier and also let patients go back and confirm information once they've heard it from the doctor."

Most of his patients were not gadget-literate to begin with, but Wheatley was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they took to the teaching program. "They look at me a little strangely when I first show them the iPod, but once I show them how it works, they're very comfortable with it," he said. "They get very excited about showing this portable information to their family and friends."

Robert Mayfield, who goes to the AHI for regular checkups, recently got an iPod video as a gift. Looking for ways to put his new toy to use, he began downloading files from the hospital's site -- and found himself unexpectedly impressed with the content. "It's access to information that's valuable to everyone, and the quality of the video is good," he said. "I’ve even taught my parents how to use it, and they picked it up really easily."

After mastering the basics of podcast downloading, Phil Calderone, who visited the hospital for laser-based tests on his heart, no longer felt as lost during his appointments. "It took me a little while to learn about the internet, but once you're on there, it's great," he said. "Getting specific information about your procedure takes a lot of the fear of the unknown out of it. In my 20s, I’d have had to go to a library to find out this stuff."


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