Podcasting in Healthcare: Is there a future?

by Hans on 2005/06/17

I’ve been following the “podcasting” phenomenon ever since I heard of the term. At this year’s Apple World Wide Developer’s Conference, Steve Jobs announced that future versions of iTunes will have features to make it easier for users to find and listen to podcasts.

Basically, “podcast” or “podcasting” is a combination of the words “broadcasting” and “iPod”. To put it simply, podcasts are like blogs but using the audio/sound format. The most popular uses right now seem to be in creating personalized music playlists and even radio-type shows [You can read more at the Wikipedia entry for podcasts/podcasting].

I came across this entry on Macobserver.com titled “Forecasts: U.S. Podcast Users to Hit 60 Million by 2010; Tool Market to Reach $400M” that piqued my attention. I’ve been wondering if there is a natural application for podcasting in health care. To date, I really haven’t been able to think of anything that seems to seem obvious or intuitive. But, I get the sense that podcasting will be something more than a passing fad. But, what role will podcasting have in health care, if any?

The more I think about it, I suspect that podcasting may not find a significant role in health care – at least none that I can see at this point in time. Why? Well, here are some of the challenges that come to mind:

  • Podcasts are meant to be “heard” – By this, I mean that you listen to a podcast. Health professionals already have too little time to listen to patients. When would they find time to listen to something else? Perhaps podcasting could take the place of dictating notes (assuming voice recognition could translate the recordings into some print format).
  • Not text – In my experience, I find it easier (and faster) to scan through large documents if they are in text versus having to listen to something. Since podcasts are not natively in text format, it makes it more difficult to “analyze” the files. I suppose we could start by adding XML-type tags or other such markers to help organize the files. Basically, the podcasts need to be transformed in some fashion to make it useful.
  • Not entertainment – For the most part, health care isn’t entertainment. I think podcasts have “taken off” because we’re dealing with music, and for the most part, entertainment activities (I know that people are slowly starting to use podcasts for education-type activities like lectures, but so far, it seems to be a minority activity). So, if you can have the podcast running in the background and not really care if you pay attention or not. I don’t see that happening in health care, particularly with the patient safety ethos of the moment.

Not to be overly pessimistic, here are a few possibilities that I think could utilize podcasting:

  • Patients talking to patients – We already see patients telling and sharing their stories on the Internet in a variety of forms. Could patients take the next step and literally *tell* their own story for others to hear?
  • Recording discussions & meetings – Podcasting could be a quick way to record the discussions that take place between patient and provider. The files could be stored for review by either the patient or provider. A patient could also use podcasting as a means of recording their own thoughts/symptoms and then later upload the file(s) to the provider’s “system” for review/analysis (see challenge above).
  • Education – Podcasts could be used to deliver health education messages either as specific “lessons”, instructions on use, or as a lecture. Actually, now that I think about it, a medical student (either a nurse or physician) could record their interactions with patients and then later review them alone or have their supervisor/instructor review them and provide feedback.

I can’t seem to think about any other possible uses at this time. Honestly, I can’t really think of any reasons why podcasting can’t be used in health care. The most significant challenge will be to find a way to manipulate and transform the podcast in such a way that you don’t have to listen to the entire thing to get the information.

If anyone else has any other ideas, I’d love to hear about them.

{ 4 comments }

Anonymous July 28, 2005 at 3:02 pm

Thanks for this informative article. I work as a Web producer for a hospital in California and I am looking at podcasting as a way to broaden the audience for our popular monthly lecture series.

Our facilities are limited to 150 attendees — on a first-come, first-served basis. So, we often have to turn folks away.

The public has expressed an interest in listening to recordings of the lectures and podcasting seems like an easy and inexpensive way to accomplish this.

We may begin podcasting as soon as next month.

Hans July 29, 2005 at 11:07 am

Glad to hear that there are some “early adopters” trying things out. You may be interested to read another post I did examining health related podcasts available through Apple’s iTunes Music Store. You can find the post here.

B. McKechnie October 21, 2005 at 8:38 am

This is where video would work better then audio. When someone has to watch and listen they take more in.

A vidcast or vodcast on health matters that people want information about (ie. bird flu) could be a big success when you have doctors, nurses and patients presenting to the camera along with photographs, diagrams, etc. Keep it in the 10 – 20 minute range and people will watch, learn and subscribe to your feed.

I also think you are looking at the subject backwards. Although I think patient Podcasts would be great, the real market (the people who are going to listen to a health related Podcast) is not the doctors – it IS the patients. For a hospital to release a Podcast of a rounds on cancer it would be the patients listening over the professionals.

Ben, Adam, or Johnny October 26, 2006 at 7:26 pm

I am doing my senior thesis project on the impact that blogs and podcasts will have on the healthcare industry, especially to college kids. I would be interested to know if there is anyone who has done research in this area

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