Doctors Get News They Can Use

Case Study: How the American Medical Association Holds on to Members

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NEW YORK ( -– While it's not as high on the list of threats as a malpractice suit or an outbreak of bird flu, "Today Show" co-anchor Matt Lauer and other morning-news hosts like him do rank high as one of doctors' biggest headaches.
Vickie Szombathy
Vickie Szombathy

Doctors' gripes are not with broadcast news or to news anchors, but rather with the volume of medical news published and aired. Keeping abreast of the latest reports, physicians say, is a cause for concern.

Too much information
"Ideally, we'd find out about the latest developments through medical journals or conferences," said Ron Davis, a preventive medicine physician at the Henry Ford Healthy System in Detroit and president-elect of the American Medical Association, the group that lobbies on behalf of doctors in Washington and unites physicians in their effort to care for patients. "But the explosion of available information and research about medical matters, coupled with the rapidity of information dissemination, makes it tough. Patients get information lickety-split -- from Google searches, from friends in online-support groups or from TV ads."

When the AMA and its media agency StarLink heard about doctors' concerns, they realized that offering a solution could also help the AMA solve another problem: its declining membership. "There are so many groups competing for physician memberships at a time when fewer doctors overall are joining any group at all," said Gary Epstein, chief marketing officer, the AMA.

The group is not one that doctors are required to join in order to keep their credentials or licenses, so Mr. Epstein's challenge is to create products and services to entice physicians to become dues-paying members ($420 annually) and to keep current members onboard.

Source of embarrassment
Focus-group research revealed that not being informed of the latest popular medical news can leave doctor red-faced and frustrated. "We heard them say, 'I get so embarrassed with a patient comes in and says he heard Matt Lauer talking about it on the 'Today Show,'" Mr. Epstein said. "Doctors are time-pressed; it's hard to keep up with news."

StarLink's VP-media director, Vickie Szombathy, proposed a daily e-mail summary of national medical news and sent to doctors' e-mail boxes early each day. Having worked with U.S. News & World Report, which publishes a similar product for employees on Capitol Hill, Ms. Szombathy suggested a partnership between U.S. News and the AMA to create "Morning Rounds," a summary of daily medical news from the last 24 hours, culled from 1,000 sources in broadcast and print. Stories are summarized, with links to the primary story. Each issue contains ads, sold by U.S. News; AMA offers it only to dues-paying members.

Results of a six-month pilot showed the newsletter is just what the doctor ordered. "Morning Rounds" was sent to 50,000 AMA member physicians, and at the trial's end, the retention rate among those receiving "Morning Rounds" was 78.4%.

Rolling out to all members
Now, the program's being rolled out to all of the AMA's 250,000 members who've elected to receive it. For the AMA, an additional benefit of the newsletter is that it can also be a vehicle for communicating the organization's activities. The next phase, Mr. Epstein said, is to use it as a two-way communications vehicle.

"We're exploring using it to conduct short polls," he said, "or perhaps giving members a platform for commenting online with their colleagues about what they're reading in the news."
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