Growing AAFP's Media Outreach: Responding to CNN
If you want to deliver your message to a large audience, sometimes you have to be nimble.
A recent Friday afternoon found me on a rare day off, skiing in Breckenridge, Colo. So did the AAFP public relations staff, who tracked me down via my cell phone. I was on a chairlift when they asked if I could fly to New York to participate in a prime time panel discussion about health care on CNN.
The cable network needed an answer within a half hour.
My answer, of course, was "Yes!"
By Monday, we had plane tickets. Tuesday, I arrived in New York, and Wednesday, I was on the set, under the lights, in makeup. The Academy's public relations staff had me prepped. We had done our homework, and I was ready.
Our panel with Sanjay Gupta, M.D., was set to discuss ways to improve our nation's fragmented, inefficient health care system and followed broadcast of "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare." The award-winning documentary details how our nation spends $2.7 trillion a year on health care, but with a deeply flawed system that rewards quantity over quality, and focuses on the treatment of disease rather than preventing it.
Filming for our panel lasted nearly half an hour, but CNN's edits brought the segment down to six minutes. In those few minutes, however, my goal was to make two important points:
- patients are healthier when they have two things: insurance coverage and access to a usual source of primary care; and
- effective primary care results in higher quality and lower costs.
For those precious few minutes, I had dropped everything and canceled my clinics on Tuesday and Wednesday. Was it worth it? Absolutely. More than 500,000 people were watching CNN on Sunday night when the program aired twice. It will be broadcast twice again on March 16.
The coverage by CNN is a national event, continuing an important conversation about what is wrong with our health care system. It also points the way to solutions that value family physicians and primary care.
The opportunity to talk to America through a national media outlet doesn't present itself every day, but the AAFP is getting, taking advantage of and even creating such opportunities more and more. Our public relations staff doesn't just respond to media requests; it is proactively reaching out to reporters with story ideas.
That staff has helped raise the profile of the importance of family medicine through the relationships it has built with the media. The number of on-message outcomes in print and online articles, radio and television broadcasts has increased 114 percent since 2008.
In any given week, the AAFP president routinely speaks to reporters for six to 12 interviews on topics ranging from health care policy to clinical issues. When the Supreme Court ruled on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last June, Board Chair -- then President -- Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., did 10 interviews in one day. And that's not even the record. Former AAFP President, Ted Epperly, M.D., once logged 11 media calls in one day!
Again, you have to be nimble to get your message across.
Media mentions of the AAFP in the nation's top 20 markets have increased 330 percent in the past five years, including a 17 percent bump last year. Our media outcomes in the dozen consumer outlets we track -- such as Reuters and NPR -- have increased more than 50 percent since 2008, while our reach in trade publications also has increased steadily.
The hard work of the Academy staff, and our elected leaders, has given family medicine a respected voice in national discussions about health care.
Jeff Cain, M.D., is President of the AAFP.