Long Island Hospitals Turning to TV

Long Island Business News
December 13, 2013
Long Island Hospitals Turning to TV

Long Island hospitals are taking to the small screen to educate patients, prove their health care expertise and promote their individual brands.

By adding cameras and teleprompters to their scalpels and stethoscopes, many area hospitals are going beyond simple commercial advertising to produce their own television programming – deeper and more nourishing content like newsmagazines and talk shows, often starring their own medical staffs.

Among the local lineup: the interactive health channel Mineola’s Winthrop-University Hospital launched in November on Cablevision Channel 652; “Focus on Health,” a newsmagazine the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System debuted in November on CBS affiliate WLNY-TV 55/10; and the new Catholic Health Services talk show “CHS Presents: Lifestyles at the Heart of Health,” which CHS plans to introduce in January on the Catholic television network Telecare, available to Cablevision and Verizon subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

While they’re careful to avoid offering actual medical advice, the health systems say the programming is educationally sound – and extremely valuable for branding purposes.

“The show itself is basically an advertisement,” CHS spokeswoman Christine Hendriks said. “By providing this information, we put our name and our doctors out there.”

“It’s another way to connect with our patients,” agreed Winthrop-University spokesman Frank Adamo. “When people are in the comfort of their homes, it gives us a way to introduce our brand to people who may not be familiar with us.”

In some cases, the provider-producers aren’t limiting themselves to television, but branching out to even smaller screens: smartphones and other portable devices.

“We’re trying to communicate with patients and people in general in the way they want to receive information,” North Shore-LIJ spokesman Brian Mulligan said. “A lot of people want to receive information through TV and video.”

There’s more than one way to present branding messages disguised as healthy living content. Catholic Health Services, for instance, hired veteran New York newscaster Jane Hanson to host “Lifestyles at the Heart of Health,” while North Shore-LIJ tapped Lenox Hill Hospital cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum to host “Focus on Health.”

Winthrop-University, meanwhile, is presenting a wider range of information without a single host tying it together.

“We didn’t start out with the goal of making one person the face of the channel,” Adamo said. “We needed to offer up a larger amount of video content in a short amount of time.”

While the providers are adopting this relatively new marketing strategy in different ways, most are keen on sharing patient success stories. Mulligan said the thrust of North Shore-LIJ’s “Focus on Health” is “the patients and what they went through,” while Steinbaum said the show hopes to present health care from a news-feature perspective that both educates and entertains.

Finding someone like Steinbaum – an accomplished physician who’s also comfortable in front of the camera – is not always easy. Hospitals have discovered that in addition to a good beside manner, TV hosts have to be able to tap their inner performer.

“The first question is, ‘Would you be comfortable being on TV?’” Hendriks said. “If someone says, ‘Yes,’ we talk to them about what we expect.”

In Winthrop-University’s case, the challenge is not so much finding the right hosts, but enough content to fill an entire interactive channel. Winthrop-University TV includes many “Ask the Doctor” segments featuring Winthrop physicians, as well as a robust lineup of premade content purchased from outside vendors.

“This is a starting point for us,” Adamo noted. “We hope to grow the depth of Winthrop-specific content as time goes on.”

As with any television program or network, the big question is how many eyes are watching the health-geared programming. An earlier attempt at an interactive channel was discontinued by North Shore-LIJ after about a year because of low viewership; the health system still wanted to connect with viewers, however, leading to the “Focus on Health” program.

“We decided to do something where we thought we’d have a good number of viewers,” Mulligan noted.

Although it’s unlikely any of this health-care programming will rival “Grey’s Anatomy” in the Nielsen ratings, Mulligan said North Shore-LIJ has high hopes viewers will connect with the new format.

“People are so concerned with their health,” Mulligan said. “It’s one of the most searched topics on the Internet. The idea is to give accurate information in a way that’s engaging.”

Focus onHealth TV

Watch Focus onHealth, Northwell Health's TV show. It's the healthy way to stay informed!