If you're a billion-dollar urban health system trying to reach patients where they live, Denny Brauer probably isn't your first choice as a marketing spokesman. However, if you're the East Texas Medical Center, Brauer is the best bait imaginable to hook bigger market share.
The Tyler-based 12-hospital system serves a mostly rural area between Dallas and Shreveport, La., that's home to many outdoorsmen. Brauer, 56, is one of the most successful outdoorsmen in the world, earning millions of dollars on the pro fishing circuit (yes, there really is one).
In 2002, Brauer was at a bass fishing tournament and happened to complain to fellow pro Paul Ferguson that he stood to lose millions in tournament money and endorsements because of debilitating back pain from a 1999 boating accident. Physicians had been unable to successfully treat the ruptured disc in previous surgeries. Brauer considered retiring from pro fishing.
But Ferguson, no slouch in the angling department himself, referred Brauer to a neurosurgeon at East Texas Medical Center, where Ferguson has worked for 12 years, currently as director of the ETMC Pain Management Center. In October 2002, the neurosurgeon, Paul Detwiller, succeeded in patching the ruptured disc, returning Brauer to his old form. He has since won two big tournaments.
After Detwiller performed the surgery, Brauer was so grateful he volunteered to tape commercials and pose for print ads to tout the hospital and celebrate his rediscovered health. The result was a $500,000 ad campaign launched last year at-what else-a media fishing tournament on a lake outside of Athens, Texas, a town where the system operates a hospital.
"This presented a once-in-a-lifetime marketing opportunity for us, since in East Texas almost everyone is a fisherman or a hunter," says Mike Thomas, the medical center's vice president of marketing. "And (Brauer) did it all for free. You can't buy something like that."
Lessons from Mr. Spock
University of Wisconsin at Madison Professor of Law and Bioethics R. Alta Charo has taught and written about such deep and divisive topics as genetic testing, health law, human embryonic research, medical ethics, reproductive rights and reproductive technology policy. Now she's taking on a lighter topic: "Star Trek."
Specifically, she's developing an undergraduate course called BioethicsTrek, which promises "an exploration of current and future bioethics topics through the narrative lens of illustrative `Star Trek' episodes."
"It is a wonderful vehicle for liberating students in their discussions," Charo says, adding that "Star Trek" themes can be used to spark conversations about current problems without upsetting current sensibilities.
She says "Star Trek" episodes parallel the societal "angst" of their times. While the original '60s series echoed Cold War images, the 1990s versions dealt with euthanasia, genetics, life science and other weighty subjects. "What it means to be a person is a repeated theme," Charo says.
Although she still needs to get permission from Paramount Pictures, which owns the rights to the series, Charo says the course is 65% ready. She envisions giving students a DVD containing 14 episodes with accompanying "serious" readings on the bioethics topics that are introduced.
One episode that would be included involves a half-human, half-Klingon character from the "Star Trek: Voyager" series who becomes pregnant and seeks to have her unborn child's Klingon genetic material removed, which Charo says can lead to talk about genetic manipulation, abortion and race.
The idea is to not only to get students to talk, but to be reflective and subject their own opinions to analytical critique. "My goal in a bioethics class is to have people more confused than when they walked in," Charo says. "I'm not trying to get them to walk out with a particular conclusion."
In shining armor
Don Berwick has earned plenty of accolades in recent years for his visionary work promoting patient safety and quality improvement in the U.S. healthcare system. Now, he's earned high honors from an entirely different source3/4Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England.
Berwick, president and chief executive officer of the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has been appointed an honorary KBE3/4that's Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire3/4in recognition of his "distinguished service to healthcare improvement in Britain's National Health Service."
Berwick is one of only a handful of recipients to receive this recognition in the fields of science and medicine; he joins such luminaries as Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg and Rudy Giuliani among the overall list of honorary knights. (In 2002, David Pitts, a longtime healthcare consultant, was inducted by the very same Queen Elizabeth into the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, a distinction associated largely with charitable work and involvement in the Anglican church.)
Berwick, one of the world's foremost authorities on healthcare quality and improvement, has worked closely with the National Health Service since the mid-1990s on a modernization plan for the United Kingdom's healthcare system. He said in a statement that he was "deeply touched" by the honor.
But don't call him "Sir Donald"-the honorary title cannot be used by non-British subjects. Of course, it won't hurt Berwick's already impressive resume.