With the fledgling Health Channel providing round-the-clock accessibility to continuing education courses for a variety of healthcare professionals, television has become more educational than ever.
Launched early this year by Houston's Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital in an alliance with GE Medical Systems, the Health Channel offers programming on topics such as pediatric bacterial infections, medical ethics and asthma management.
The partners declined to disclose how much each has invested in the Houston-based for-profit venture.
Baylor, which currently develops almost half the programming, created the satellite subscription channel to make continuing medical education more widespread and affordable for healthcare institutions, thereby enhancing patient care.
"Baylor was looking for an opportunity to reach as many healthcare professionals as they could with a message that would ultimately improve patient care," says Christopher Guinn, Health Channel's president and chief executive officer. It's often difficult for healthcare professionals to attend meetings and seminars that take them away from their patients, he says. "If you could bring information to them and make it accessible round the clock, you're able to reach a lot more people. We wanted to use technology as well as traditional and new media to create that goal."
The programs include roundtable discussions, films of live procedures and news shows. They also provide opportunities for interaction via viewer calls during live shows.
"We wanted to produce TV-quality programming," says Ralph Feigin, M.D., president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine and physician-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital. "It can't just be someone taping a lecture in an auditorium. We will film someone giving a lecture but will do it in a way so that it's not just a talking head up there."
A consortium of other distinguished institutions helps select and produce the programs. Members include Cleveland Clinic; Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Ohio State University, Columbus; and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.
After watching the shows, which air several times throughout the week at different times, healthcare professionals can take tests on paper-and via the Internet-to receive CME credits.
The channel also has a World Wide Web site: www. healthchannelweb.com.
(That's not to be confused with a San Francisco-based Internet company by the same name-the Health Channel-launched April 1, which offers medical information to consumers as well as continuing medical education credits for healthcare professionals. Through an agreement signed last week with the Institute for Medical Studies, based in Laguna Niguel, Calif., the company claims it will become the most complete source for CME programming on the Internet. Its Web site is www.thehealthchannel.com.)
Available via GE Medical Systems' satellite network-Training in Partnership Television, or TiP-TV-the Health Channel debuted in February with few subscribers. However, Health Channel executives hope that more than 100 subscribers will be tuning in by year-end, Guinn says.
GE had previously launched two channels, Diagnostic Imaging and Focus on Healthcare, which show approximately 25 hours of programming each week. With almost 2,000 subscribers, GE's TiP-TV, formed in 1993, reaches mainly radiologists and radiology technicians.
While the average hospital subscriber to Diagnostic Imaging and Focus on Healthcare pays about $250 per month, the entire package, including Health Channel, will cost $750 to $3,000 per month depending on the hospital's size.
Despite the large price increase with the additional channel, hospitals say they save money overall.
"We purchased the Health Channel because it's an extremely cost-effective education system," says Mary Ann Bernard, a nurse who is the coordinator of infection control and education at 61-bed Willamette Valley Medical Center in McMinnville, Ore. "The monthly subscription rate is comparable to sending two people to off-site education and is less costly than bringing a lecturer in. The information is helpful to a large group of the hospital population."
In addition, the hospital videotapes the programs, offering a library of tapes that can be viewed during employees' leisure time or at home. Willamette Valley strongly encourages its employees to watch the tapes of the live shows.
"As soon as I have tapes available, I send a mass e-mail to all the staff letting them know there's new video available. If it's geared toward a specific department, I take it directly to those people," Bernard says.
"They may pull together a staff meeting and watch it as a group," she says. "For hot topics, we may put up fliers and reserve a room to watch it live. Sometimes we bribe them with lunch. We're always looking for creative ways to get people there, but that hasn't been very difficult to date."