Health Communicators should be Podcasting!

I have the honor of co-organizing (with the wonderful Nathan Kuruna) the first ever Philadelphia Podcast Festival, happening August 1-3 at PhilaMOCA and PhillyCAM. As a talkative kind of gal, I’ve been doing a few interviews to promote the Festival. This means I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of independent media to give voice to anyone who wants to tell a story. And then it hit me: public health professionals should be podcasting. First, let’s define a podcast. From the Philadelphia Podcast Festival’s site:

A podcast is a bit like a radio show that you download from the internet. A lot of podcasters use them purely to entertain people but any business, organization or individual can use a podcast to share information. This keeps their fans, customers, members or friends updated on what they’re up to. You can use it to broadcast any message you want into the world. Audio is recorded, posted online and retrieved on demand by listeners. Some listen to podcasts at their computers, others put them on an mp3 player and listen to them while doing other things (jogging, driving, etc.).

Podcasters generally release new episodes on weekly or monthly basis. A listener can manually download each episode or subscribe to a podcast and have it automatically download to a computer or device as new episodes are released.

People really do listen to podcasts. As of 2011, there were 91,000 podcasts. In 2012, Edison Research found that 29% of Americans polled had listened to a podcast at least once, and 26% had viewed a video podcast (sometimes called a vodcast) at least once. This shows a shift from early adopters of the medium into a more general audience. Not to mention, iTunes just reached 1 billion subscriptions.

Since jumping into the public health world, I’ve learned that this field is learning to love social media. We’re learning how to use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the like for public health messaging. (Shout out to Jim Garrow’s social media for public health twitter chat #sm4ph for teaching me about all kinds of social media I never would have tried on my own!) However, there’s a steep learning curve for health departments and organizations to get used to making content specifically for networks like Vine or Pinterest. We're still learning how to increase the efficacy and reach of that content.

But podcasting is simple: just hit record and start talking. Public health communicators should be doing what they do best—communicating—by taking advantage of podcasting’s unique qualities:

  • Anyone can make a podcast.
  • Anyone can listen to a podcast.
  • Podcasts are portable so you don’t have to be in front of a screen to enjoy them.
  • People without home internet access can download episodes at the library or Keyspot, load it onto a smart phone or iPod and listen any time.
  • Sensitive issues like sexual health or mental illness are perfect topics for podcasts because listening to them is usually a private activity.
  • Podcast listeners often develop a relationship with podcasters through repeated exposure to their ideas and information. Regularly scheduling frequent episodes helps build trust between listener and podcaster, which is especially important for health topics.
  • Podcasts don’t have to be just informative. The medium does best with a casual tone and a steady infusion of humor and lightheartedness.

I poked around a little and found that there are some active public health podcasts. I made this handy chart of the ones I found that are still active (there are plenty of defunct podcasts—looking at you, WHO and EPA), so you can check them out. I deliberately excluded anything called a podcast simply made non-internet-based audio or video available online, such as NPR stories or recordings of lectures. There’s also a great listing of additional podcasts from academic journals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Ebling Library.




Latest Episode Topic

Sample Topics

Approximate Episode Length

American Public Health Association Get Ready Report July 11, 2013: Travel Safety Preparedness: hurricanes, flu, pets & disasters, healthy stockpiling 3-21 minutes
Centers for Disease Control


CDC Podcast July 17, 2013: Healthy Corner Store Initiative HPV vaccine, foodborne illness, zoonotic disease, history 1-20 minutes
Department of Health and Human Services HHS HealthBeat July 29, 2013: Kid Jitters and Emergencies Daily tips on asthma, preparedness, smoking, kidney stones 59 seconds
Helen Osborne Health Literacy Out Loud July 30, 2013: Stages of Change and Health Communication Poetry and health, communicating screening test results, jargon 15-25 minutes
Jigsaw PSPH I’m a Public Health Professional Get Me Out of Here! July 26, 2013: The royal baby Air quality, bogus health inspectors, local health departments 8-10 minutes
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Public Health: On the Inside July 2013: The Consumer’s Scientist Flu, trauma, injury prevention 10-13 minutes
Harvard School of Public Health HSPH Podcast July 25, 2013: Breakfast and Heart Disease Risk Health disparities, history, new research, ACA 5-10 minutes
National Institutes of Health NIH Research Radio July 26, 2013: Evening chronotype and eating behavior Diabetes, heat safety, depression, hypnosis and sleep 15 minutes
Nina Martin Public Health United July 3, 2010: What does mosquito season mean for you? Interviews, BRCA genes, health communication 40 minutes-1 hour

I hope that as the field learns more about social and new media, we can start to embrace podcasting. Do you listen to podcasts? Have you considered starting one for public health or in another field? (If you are, be sure to come to our FREE panel discussion with podcasting experts on August 2 at 2pm at PhillyCAM.)

Find out more about the Philadelphia Podcast Festival by following us on Twitter and check us out on Facebook. You can also get the schedule of events and purchase tickets.