Dr. TV

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Educational television doesn't have to be PBS. A recent survey of "ER" viewers found prime-time entertainment may be an effective way to educate people about health issues, but that health messages must be repeated if they are to be retained.

The survey, conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation, focused on the April 10, 1997 episode of "ER." The episode contained a short vignette about a victim of date rape. The victim wants information about emergency (post-coital) contraception and, in a segment that lasts a couple of minutes, is told birth-control pills are a possible solution.

The study consisted of three separate surveys of regular "ER" viewers. A group of 400 viewers were surveyed in the ten days prior to the show, a second group of 305 viewers were surveyed in the week following, and a third group of 301 were questioned ten weeks after the program aired.

The number of viewers who knew a woman had options for preventing pregnancy even after unprotected sex increased from 50 percent before viewing the episode to 67 percent in the week after the episode. The number of viewers who specified that a woman could take post-coital birth control pills to prevent pregnancy increased from 10 percent to 33 percent.

But despite the immediate surge in awareness, understanding was not sustained. Two and a half months after the episode, only half of respondents knew a woman could prevent pregnancy after intercourse--the same percentage as before the program aired. Kaiser suggests that the decline reinforces previous research indicating repetition of messages is the key to long-term retention.

For more informattion, visit the media area at http://www.kff.org or contact the Kaiser Family Foundation at 1450 G Street NW, Suite 250, Washington, DC 20005; telephone (800) 656-4533.

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