The concluding article on my series for the Irish Medical Times (16th February edition) on Web 2.0 developments wrapped up with look at podcasting.
I like listening to the radio when I cook dinner on Saturday evenings. Radio One and Off The Shelf is the preferred option. If the subject there is not to my interest, Loose Ends on BBC Radio 4 might have something amusing. I don’t own a stand-alone internet radio, but instead make do with a desktop computer connected to a mini-FM transmitter which is then picked up by the kitchen stereo.
Six years ago, internet streams were really the only way to listen to radio programmes that you had missed.
Around the same period, MP3 devices such as the iPod were just beginning to get real mass-market appeal. The hardware for creating digital audio and video content were becoming more popular, as well as the software, tools and standards for distributing the content.
So while the majority of listeners today will be familiar with podcasting from the traditional broadcasters and iTunes, it actually originated with the pioneers who said to themselves, “I’d like to make my own radio programme”.
The software was there to record the programme, RSS (or feeds) were there to distribute the programme automatically, and the MP3 devices were there for people to listen to the programmes during their ‘grey time’ – commuting, jogging or just relaxing.
These programmes – including podcasts and vidcasts (video podcasts) — were created by ordinary people and fall under the moniker ‘user generated content’. It may be a pretty horrible term, but the concept, along with social media in general, is one which is galvanising the current wave of internet development.
Over the past 18 months or so, traditional broadcasters have sat up and really taken notice. Many programmes are now available as downloads as well as streams. I still like to listen to scheduled radio on my Saturday evenings, but when I am travelling, I ensure that a library of podcasts is available to listen to on my MP3 device in the car.
This will range from radio programmes that I have missed during the week, through to discussions around technical subjects given by amateur podcasters, through to talks given at conferences in the US.
This is the great attraction of the medium. You are no longer bound by a broadcast schedule or by a range of programming. You can decide what you want to listen to and when.
Not surprisingly, educational uses of podcasting are very much in vogue at present. Some colleges and universities are actually supplying students with the mobile devices themselves. There is no longer an excuse for not attending lectures or not getting notes.
Educating patients seems to be a particular niche that has a lot of resonance around the world. The Builth and Llanwrtyd Medical Practice in Wales distributes content on the video sharing site YouTube, as well as in download formats that could be used on an iPod.
In Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, topics for podcasts are chosen from the likes of the New England Journal of Medicine and physicians from the centre are interviewed for opinions on these topics. These are made available on a weekly basis.
Clarian Health Partners went a step further. Out of its hospital facility in Carmel, Indiana, it offered an iPod to each patient undergoing bariatric or weight reducing surgery. Patients receive the ‘health pod’ Apple device already pre-loaded with healthcare content pertaining to their medical procedure.
The short audio and video segments — each no longer than 10 minutes — include surgeons responding to frequently asked questions, specifics of the surgical proceduers, potential surgical risks, diet and grocery shopping tips, and so forth.
There is no doubt that the Irish consumer can find this content useful in their search for information on particular health topics. In the interim, the VHI provides the only home-grown health awareness content in podcast format.
While individual doctors may go the route of creating material for their patients, they should probably do so with their eyes wide open. As with blogging, creating podcasts would be an activity that could consume a considerable amount of time. On the other hand, if there was collaboration on the topics to be covered and input from a number of interested parties, then something very useful could be created.