Position yourself as a medical expert by working with the local media

Doctors and journalists often have a love-hate relationship. Community-based and national newspaper, radio, TV, and Web site reporters call on doctors as expert sources for health-related articles and news segments.

Aniruddha Malpani, MD“Community-based and national newspaper, radio, TV, and Web site reporters call on doctors as expert sources for health-related articles and news segments.”
-Aniruddha Malpani, MD, medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India

Doctors can provide information about new medical advances and technology; advice on treatments and preventive care; and general medical facts and background. This type of guidance allows journalists to present stories about health to their readers with greater detail and in the right context.

Key Point: Serving as an expert resource for local journalists can inform the public about critical health issues while also establishing you as a community subject matter expert and ultimately building your practice. It’s important to develop a strong rapport with reporters by providing accurate and easy-to-understand information during interviews and to be accessible when they are on deadlines.

When you work with the local media in your community, you:

  • inform your patients and other community members about important health topics
  • help ensure that accurate health information is disseminated
  • establish yourself as a subject matter expert in the community regarding medical issues, which ultimately can serve as a means of building your medical practice.

Foster a positive working relationship

Savvy doctors know that dealing with the press can be a double-edged sword: while a positive article can be very good for your reputation, a negative story can create an enormous amount of harm.

Therefore, it’s important to establish positive working relationships with journalists in your community so that you can make sure that the health articles for which you are interviewed are reported objectively, fairly, and accurately. Some ways to do that include[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]:

  • get to know the reporters in your community; offer to meet with them over lunch or during a casual meeting in your clinic when they aren’t actively working on a story, to talk about the importance of educating the public about health issues with accurate, objective information
  • recommend authoritative medical information resources to the reporters that they can access online or through other venues so that they can do their “homework” before reporting an article and can prepare for interviews with sources such as yourself; prepared and informed reporters always ask better questions and produce a higher-quality article or news segment
  • offer to serve as a medical expert for articles that the reporter is working on
  • only agree to be a source for article topics about which you have deep subject matter expertise; when you don’t, you can help the reporter (and the story) by referring him or her to another source whose expertise is in the area that’s being covered
  • be sure to call the reporter when you read about an interesting study or other medical news that might be a good “news tip” for the media outlet; you can offer to be interviewed for the article if it’s an area about which you are knowledgeable, but even if it’s not, the fact that you passed an article idea on to the reporter will go a long way towards building a mutual respect and rapport.

How to become a ‘go-to’ resource

It’s not always difficult to get your first interview with the media, but how do you become a “go-to” resource whom reporters seek out again and again? A good place to start is by following this advice:

  • when you are interviewed by reporters, be sure to talk with them about complex medical topics in simple, understandable terms—similar to how you would communicate with a patient who does not have a medical background, since these patients are also the media outlets’ readers and viewers
  • talk in “sound bytes”—short snippets of information that can easily be used in audio and video, and that are easily quoted in print; pretend that you are in an elevator with someone and you only have until the 10th floor to explain a complex topic succinctly and in a compelling way
  • be accessible! reporters are often on tight deadlines, and appreciate it when you can get back to them quickly—either to answer their questions as background for the article, to serve as an interview source, or to refer them to other resources or experts
  • don’t underestimate the knowledge level of a good medical journalist—they often understand complex medical topics and concepts even though they didn’t go to medical school; treat them with respect but always provide context and explanation where needed
  • offer to be available (and again, easily accessible with quick call-backs) if the reporter has any follow-up questions or needs to double-check any facts; this practice will result in a more accurate final article or segment, and it also will make you even more valuable to the journalist as an expert resource.

Building trust

A positive, productive working relationship with journalists benefits everyone, including you and your practice, the reporters, and your patients and other community members who learn more about important health topics through the media coverage.

Still, you may have lingering concerns. If you do, the advice that follows should be useful:

  • Many doctors are wary of talking to reporters, because they are worried that this type of exposure could be misconstrued by critics, who may see the practice as a form of advertising. While serving as a medical expert for the local media ultimately could bring in more patients and build your practice, that end benefit should never be your primary motivation. Your desire to serve as a medical expert for the local media should be fueled by a desire to ensure that journalists report medical topics objectively and accurately, with a focus on actionable medical advice that patients can really use. This focus on the facts rather than on overtly marketing your practice directly establishes you as a subject matter expert whom more patients naturally would like to have as their doctor. So the result is a win for all involved, and you have not blatantly marketed yourself or advertised—you have simply informed and educated.
  • Some doctors have learned the hard way that because reporters have very limited space, they will often end up editing and compressing the doctor’s remarks and as a result, what finally appears in print may have little connection with the original statements that the doctor made. Again, offer to be available for the reporter’s follow-up questions to help ensure that he or she has the story and medical facts right. Never insist on complete prior review of an article or segment before it runs (some journalists look upon this as a form of censorship), but do tell the reporter that you would be happy to review information that will be attributed to you for “accuracy only”; the reporter may be willing to read direct quotes back to you or to at least go over any lingering questions to ensure that there weren’t any miscommunications. This approach helps both you and the reporter look better by avoiding any factual errors and results in a higher-quality finished article. Also, get to know which reporters in your community report articles fairly and accurately and align yourself with them.
  • Doctors may be concerned about reporters who seem to be more interested in doing negative stories that tend to portray doctors in a negative light. Again, it pays to get to know the local journalists, so you know which ones are objective and can be trusted. Be accessible to those reporters rather than the ones who focus on sensationalism. Also, by proving yourself as knowledgeable and by providing fact-based information, you could very easily change the mind of a reporter who originally set out to do an article or segment that would reflect negatively on the medical profession. This approach benefits the media outlet as well as you, your colleagues, and patients.

The most important factor in fostering a successful, productive relationship with the media is for doctors and journalists to trust each other. We need to create long-term relationships that can be tapped so that the public has access to reliable medical information that they can trust.

Aniruddha Malpani, MD Dr. Malpani is medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India, medical director of the HELP-Health Education Library for People, and author of a physician and patient education blog. He is an angel investor in Plus 91, which offers customized Web sites for doctors.


Log in or register for free to continue reading
Register Now For Free Already Registered? Log In
This entry was posted in Business of Medicine, Practice Management and tagged , , , , , , . Volume: .

One Comment

  1. taral mehta
    Posted Oct 2012 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    Excellent advice!

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.