It's time to start podcasting (start what?) for your practice!

August 1, 2006

With the exploding popularity of pocket-sized digital audio and video players, such as Apple's iPod, so many people have instant access to information at their fingertips in the form of so-called "podcasts." But what exactly is a podcast? And how can its popularity with youth, and, often, their parents, work for your practice?

MR. DYSART lectures and writes about the Internet and is a business consultant in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He has nothing to disclose in regardto affiliations with, or financial interests in, any organization that may have an interest in any part of this article.

Pediatric endocrinologist and anti-childhood obesity advocate Judith K. Hochstadt, MD, never set out to be a Web audio pioneer, but she was more than happy to strap on a set of headphones and cozy up to a computer microphone when she realized that podcasting offered a way to reach out to parents whose children are overweight in a new way.

So what is podcasting?

Anyone who has a teenager or college student in their life knows that podcasts are brief, Web-based, audio programs-usually, 15 to 30 minutes long-that can be downloaded and copied onto an iPod or similar device, often called an MP3 player in reference to a specific type of audio file.

Of course, although Web audio is nothing new, the charm of podcasts-and the buzz they're increasingly generating-is rooted in the medium's portability and ease of use. Thanks to the computer wizards who, ultimately, want to make our lives no tougher than opening our eyelids each morning, subscribing to an ongoing podcast show is no more difficult than visiting a podcasting Web site once, clicking on a "Subscribe" icon, and allowing the computer do the rest.

From there, all subscribers need do is keep a portable digital audio device plugged into a PC on a regular basis and the podcast subscribing service will automatically download the latest program to the device.

Essentially, the process is like TiVo for audio programming, according to David A. Fish, CEO of I Make News (http:// http://www.imninc.com/imn_index.htm), an e-communications service provider that has seen a rapid rise in the number of firms reaching out to clients and customers with podcasts.

"It gives people the freedom to choose when, where, and how they want to listen," Fish says. "They can play a podcast in the background while they do other work on their computers. Or they can download the podcast to a portable MP3 player and listen to it at their convenience-on the commuter train, at the gym, or at home."

Podcasting in practice

Podcasting also gives pediatric clinicians like Dr. Hochstadt, founder of HELP (Healthy Eating Lifestyle Program), based in Fairfield, Conn., (http:// http://www.askdrjudy.com/) a new voice in a new medium. In Dr. Hochstadt's case, she podcasts to spread the word about, first, HELP, which is offered by her firm, and, second, her grave concern that too few parents in the US realize the looming health threat posed by childhood obesity.