The Coastal Star

Health & Harmony: New channel on healthy living gets viewers involved in shows

By Lona O'Connor

During the long hours when Penelope Douglas and her team put together the new Health Channel, she learned a few things she hadn’t expected — including the virtues of eating beans. More on that in a moment.

Douglas was no stranger to health, medicine and eating right. Her background was producing health programs for television.

The Health Channel, which launched in August, is a digital channel of South Florida PBS and is available to Palm Beach County viewers over the air and on Comcast and Hotwire. The channel is a mix of live and recorded programs featuring medical professionals from Baptist Health South Florida. They soon will be joined by colleagues from Bethesda Healthcare Systems, which recently joined the Baptist Health network.

The Health Channel team hit the ground running on March 1, hiring a small production staff, creating a weekly schedule, collecting doctors and helping them to explain confusing medical terms.

The Health Channel includes a website where the public can search for specific ailments and view Baptist Health experts, available in two- to three-minute versions of full-length interviews, which are about an hour long.

One of the Health Channel’s best features is interactivity. Viewers can call in and participate before or during the live shows and discuss specific health issues.

The doctors work with interactive 3-D body graphics to make the discussions more specific and understandable.

The Health Channel broadcasts 24 hours a day. Each week the team produces 20 hours of programming, including four hours of live TV, on topics from orthopedics to nutrition, cancer to kids’ health. Programs repeat during the remaining hours of the week.

A viewer who leaves a message about a specific medical condition on the Health Channel’s answering machine may be surprised to receive a callback from a staff member, who will let the caller know that, say, a cardiologist will be interviewed at 7 a.m. the following day.

“People have been so grateful and complimentary,” said Douglas, who is one of the people who regularly makes these calls. “But sometimes I do have to tell them more than once that I’m not trying to sell them anything.”

In one case, the callback was not routine. A viewer had left a message saying she noticed blood in her stool.

Douglas called back immediately. A man answered. When Douglas identified herself, he hung up on her. Douglas called back and this time a woman answered. Before the woman could hang up, Douglas explained why she was calling and told her a doctor would be discussing colon cancer the next day at 11 a.m. on the Health Channel.

“She had a complete change of attitude,” said Douglas. “She said, thank you so much.”

Many medical centers have cameras in place, so in the future Douglas and her colleagues hope to be able to call health experts and researchers all over the country.

The Health Channel has already started broadcasting human-interest stories on patients and doctors, including triplets who are obstetrician-gynecologists working with their mother, also an ob-gyn.

Besides covering the big categories, the channel drills down to lesser-known issues like cancer-related depression and heart problems caused by cancer treatments. In a recent program, a psychotherapist told the story of how her sudden depression led her doctor to find the cancer and then help her treat the cancer and the depression.

Now, about those beans. The Health Channel includes a number of shows on nutrition and exercise. The dietitian on a nutrition show took a call from a woman on dialysis who wanted to eat better but pointed out that it’s often cheaper to eat bad food.

The nutritionist told the woman that canned beans are healthy and cheap, about 20 cents a serving. She then made a bean salad.

“It was delicious,” Douglas reported. The shows, she said, “are not just hypothetical. The dietitian said, here is an example and it is cheap. I loved that call. And these shows have changed my eating and exercise habits. Now I set an alarm and every half hour I get up and walk.”

In focus groups, health was a topic that interested potential viewers, said Bill Scott, executive vice president of South Florida PBS. South Florida PBS and Baptist Health South Florida were a good match because their customer footprint was similar, stretching from the Florida Keys to Martin County.

The Health Channel can be viewed on television, smartphone and the internet. The website already contains about 1,000 health-related videos, Scott said.

“The world of health and medicine is evolving so rapidly and we want to be ready for that future,” he said.

“Whatever we do, we always ask, is there another way, a better way, to do it, in keeping with our mission to serve the community,” said Scott. “I put myself in the shoes of the viewer and say, does this make sense to me, does it look interesting, does it provide information that’s useful?

“The payoff is when we get emails and calls from people who say what they like.”

To contact the Health Channel, phone 855-796-4475.

Lona O’Connor has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send column ideas to Lona13@bellsouth.net.

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