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October 10, 2013

No Substitute for Experience, Especially in Healthcare Communications

Having just completed and delivered our 8th annual educational DVD for the National MS Society, it struck me how much I have learned about medical studies, procedures, and environments over the years. No, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I sure have filmed a number of them: Neurologists, Epidemiologists, Geneticists, Psychologists, Obstetricians, Physical Therapists, – even Veterinarians!

How many people can say they’ve been a fly-on-the-wall during a vocal fold augmentation AND a sleep study AND have seen an actual centrifuge in action? Ok, maybe I was easier to spot than a fly with my camera crew, but not much, and that’s the point.

Having had the opportunity to film in prestigious medical centers across the country such as the Cleveland Clinic, Yale, Harvard and the CDC to name a few, you can’t help but be in tune with “the right way to do it”. Because when it comes to working in these facilities – there most certainly is a “right way”.

Let me put it this way: I have worn scrubs, over heels. Those of you who know me best are more likely surprised by the heels, but trust me, working in an environment that requires scrubs to be worn by the video crew has other important requirements as well. Details such as staging equipment, finding power, movement restrictions, all must be considered and observed. And it’s not just for the OR and exam room. Hallways are busy in medical facilities. Personnel must be able to move through them unobstructed. Unlike typical marketing projects, It actually can be a life and death issue. These are serious environments, with serious consequences. We have to be quick, and light on our feet and know when and where to point our lens so that we get the shot. Sorry, but that needle is not going in twice.

There are other pragmatic details we have learned to check off our list along the way, as well. For example, we know that even though a doctor may agree to be filmed, we still need to go through the Medical Center’s PR team for permission to film on the premises. There may be additional paperwork including insurance requirements, and media releases – outside of our own.

Access to the loading dock is very important, as is alerting and gaining a contact in security. If you think airports are tough – try hospital security! Certain labs are working on sensitive research; so shots of equipment or research must be pre-approved, or shot around. And perhaps most importantly, note the hazard stickers. DON’T TOUCH anything that has one.

In addition to logistics and safety, we have become incredibly sensitive to the needs of patients, such as accessibility, dealing with fatigue, temperature, and privacy. A filming schedule must be respectful of these considerations for both interviews and b-roll. I have learned it doesn’t matter how fast WE can move, the pace of the day is determined by the subject: matter or person.

At the end of the day – this is what it is all about: telling a story. In order to do any subject justice, you must have an understanding not only of your communication goals, but how to accomplish them fully, accurately and safely. There is no substitute for experience, and this is especially true in the case of healthcare communications.