Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Doctor Is On: The New Doc Radio

By Sally Chew

Doctor Radio, launched by Sirius on June 2, is a dream come true for doctors who love what they do—and happen to have an exhibitionist streak. Practitioners at New York University Langone Medical Center banter with each other about everything from salmonella and tick bites to disease-struck celebrities (think Tim Russert and Amy Winehouse); take phone calls and emails from around the country; and sometimes even sit their own patients down to review “how the surgery went.”

I signed up for a three-day trial, and the first doc-host I encountered was pediatrician Dr. Dan Rausch, addressing a thorny summer-camp predicament on a show called “On Call for Kids.” A mom wanted to know if she could give her son a break from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorde (ADD) meds for one reckless, attention-liberating week or two. Dr. Rausch advised against it. “If [he’s] thriving at home on the medication, it would be my personal opinion that the child stay on the medication,” said the straightforward Dr. Rausch. Sure, school is out, but camp will bring it’s own new “stresses,” he said.

Next, I listened to “The Pulse,” featuring heart surgeon Dr. Thomas Maldonado and a man named Christopher, who had been relieved of a “really big aneurysm” by Maldonado himself. I picked up a little circulatory science and noticed how intimate it all felt. Dr. Maldonado told his patient: “I just saw your urologist in the lobby,” as if he were talking about a mutual friend. Then he offered his sincere hope (on national radio!) that Christopher would please quit smoking.
Hearts work their way into branding (and website headlines) better than most medical things, so I wasn’t surprised that the next show I ran into after “The Pulse” was called “Heart to Heart.” The program eventually got around to heart surgery—repairing coronary arteries with catheters—but not before some banter about an Atlanta Braves game and a Hillary Clinton event.

I didn’t mind the off-topic tangents because I was so thoroughly entertained by cardiologist Dr. Fred Feit, director of the medical center’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab. He has one of those naturally quirky-confident radio show personalities and even confessed at one point that sometimes it is “scary” blowing up balloons inside arteries. I imagine the human side of medicine will be one of the station’s main appeals, drawing in a loyal crowd of med students and other medical junkies.

On occasion, the chitchat did slip too much into inside baseball, however. I was turned off by one doctor’s full-on flattery of another colleague’s low mortality rates, if a little titillated by an oblique reference to “the dark side of stents.”

Pure doctor gossip, on the other hand, definitely has its place. If I’m right in guessing the main audience for the shows, then little tidbits about the doctors themselves will be a key ingredient. I found it pretty funny to learn that doctors at NYU Langone were skipping out during the day recently to catch European Cup soccer games. I guess that’s all right, as long as they make it back in time for their appointments with patients (and their appearances in Radioland).

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