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Medical Television Nation

By Helen Anderson
Food Pyramid -

According to the 2010 U.S. census bureau, which released their most recent numbers in September of 2011, nearly 17% of Americans are living without health insurance. As employment statistics continue to waiver, the number of those without coverage appears to be on the rise.

While they may not be the first group to come to your mind when this topic comes up, television networks have most definitely taken notice of and honed in on this decline.

The rise of televised medical advice

Television shows that feature doctors addressing America are not a new phenomenon. Dr. Phil has been on the air assisting viewers with their psychological complexities for the past 10 years. Dr. Mehmet Oz was a regular in our homes as a spot on the Oprah show for five years before venturing out on his own path in 2009. The newest addition to the daytime advice column is ‘The Doctors.’ This set includes four physicians featured as experts in their particular fields who are there to address any and all audience and viewer questions and concerns.

It seems they’ve always been around, but only recently has the fan based surrounding these medical advice shows risen to a new level of intensity. Major morning shows such as Today and Good Morning America have jumped on the bandwagon and now regularly host dietary and health experts to address viewer concerns. Viewer numbers are steady and rising as people flock to these shows and the networks happily provide. So why the increased demand for televised medical advice?

Free health advice

While there are many possible reasons, one could potentially be the correlation between the dispensing of free medical advice in a time where so many are struggling for health coverage. Low income families that can’t afford premiums need only tune in during the week for help they would otherwise be opening their wallets for.

Personal medical relationships

While these shows would definitely benefit those who don’t have the time or income to handle health insurance; there is an interactive aspect to these programs that also appeals to mass audiences. Beyond just tuning in at a certain time and day Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and The Doctors provide websites with “personalized” features.

Audience members have the option of contributing to blogs, submitting questions directly to the host or participating in health challenges with other viewers. It’s very possible that this sort of platform creates a feeling of ‘personalized’ care that people feel they are lacking when they visit their own physicians. Where many people feel like nothing more than a number at the doctor’s office; they are provided an avenue for direct access to a physician 24/7 through medical show websites.

Flexibility and up-to-date information

While making an appointment with a doctor usually necessitates scheduling in advance, these medical advice shows provide the American people with new information on a daily basis and consistently promise new, cutting-edge information. There is no waiting around because viewers know exactly when to expect updates—network time slots are set in stone. There is an overriding sense of immediate satisfaction in this system. It ultimately corresponds well to a society that has come to expect instant access to information with the explosion of mobile and digital media on the market.

The audience

There is never a lack of concerns being addressed on these shows, so who exactly is watching diligently enough to ask the questions that keep the show on air? As stated above, it could be assumed that because these shows dispense so much advice, lower income families without health coverage might be the primary beneficiaries. However, it’s important to step back and ask ourselves if this is even possible.

Members of low income families are most likely either working multiple jobs to handle bills, or possibly working towards moving out of unemployment. In cases like these, would these individuals realistically have the time or finances to stop what they are doing in the middle of the day and attentively watch medical experts hand out advice? While television shows like these would benefit low-income families, they may be more suited for middle-class America given their daytime viewing hours. As a side note, in order to participate in online discussion forums the shows provide, an individual or family would have to have access to the appropriate technology and communication sources. This is not something that is financially feasible for every single American household.

Trends and Fads

While medical advice shows definitely have the upper hand over office physicians in being able to visit “patients” in their homes daily, it’s important to look at the quality of information being provided. Those who love Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil and similar programs will say that they are not only interesting shows, they are modern and informative. The other side of the argument is that these shows are profiting on trends, fads and mass hysteria. With concerns over obesity, food-born- illnesses and other diseases on the rise, many are tuning into these programs looking for answers and leaving with more concerns than before. It seems logical that in order to pull viewers in, a network would need to provide something worth worry about in order to provide necessary answers. If this is true, do these shows really provide helpful public health information, or are they simply playing on audience fears to increase ratings?

What happens to your actual physician?

Where TV provides information in the comfort and convenience of the publics’ own home, there is always going to be something to be said about meeting one on one with your degree certified physician in an office. The risk that is often presented when it comes to medical programming occurs when individuals forfeit trips to the doctor for serious conditions and rely solely upon Dr. Television. When weighing the benefits of receiving televised advice over personal medical attention, do the conveniences outweigh the risk?

Possibilities on the Horizon—your turn to weigh in

Modern medical advice shows are gaining momentum on multiple networks and all signs point to the possibility that they are here to stay. In the wake of their growing influence, do you think that these shows have the ability to benefit those who don’t have health insurance in a tough economy; or are they simply pawns to the networks looking for a pay day at the expense of public fear?

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