In Depth

‘Healthline’ Helps Baby Boomers Take Control of Care

Providing Reliable Information Is Key Aspect of RLTV Show

In the digital age, many people turn to the Internet for health care advice. That’s useful, and many seniors do use PCs to gather information. But even more, they look to television for medical counsel and to augment doctor visits. That’s what Retirement Living Television’s program “Healthline” is all about.

Aimed at the aging baby boomer generation, which is the largest segment of the population in the United States, “Healthline” promotes the idea that the healthier you are, the more likely you'll be to enjoy life. The health and medical program aims to equip viewers with the tools they need to take better control of their own health care.

“Retirement Living TV is still a new network, and the mission of ‘Healthline’ is geared to seniors,” said Dr. Kevin Soden, who hosts the show. “One of the things we know in medicine is that you treat pediatrics different than you treat teenagers than you treat young adults than you treat folks who are older. Unfortunately, physicians haven’t done that over the years. I think people are now realizing that we only have half the geriatricians that we need in America who can deal with these complicated issues.”

Dr. Soden, a medical journalist for more than two decades, has been a regular on NBC's “Today” as well as the nationally syndicated golf show “Par for the Course.”
Getting into health care on TV was strictly serendipity. He was already an established Charlotte, N.C., physician when he answered an ad placed by a local TV station. “The CBS affiliate wanted somebody to do health stories. It was $100 a month to do two or three stories a week. I got the job, and from there I learned how to do it right.”

He did everything for his segments: researching, writing and reporting. He discovered what stories worked and how to tell them. Within a couple of years, he moved to the NBC affiliate in Charlotte, and that led to “Today.”

To effectively deliver quality health care information on TV required using the experience he’d gathered as a member of the medical community. “The same skills a good medical journalist has are the same as a good physician who’s talking to his patient. You know the old saying, ‘Keep it simple, stupid’—it’s the KISS principle,” said Dr. Soden.

Simplicity starts with how to speak to viewers.

“You don’t talk in medical-ese. Give bits of information, give bites so that people can digest it and think about it and then deal with it. As I talk to patients, I think to myself, ‘OK, how can I relate to them on their level?’ If I have a 40-year-old guy who’s working a second shift in an assembly line, I may present things to him differently than someone who has a scientific background and I understand he wants a deeper explanation. I gear it to what the patient may need.

“It’s the same thing on TV,” he said. “What’s my demographic and what do they want to know? How can I give them news that they can use?”

Working on a startup channel like RLTV is a challenge.

“It’s been two years now. RLTV is growing. We’re in 35 million households. There are so many channels out there, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

With his background in science, Dr. Soden—and other doctors in journalism—can bring a unique angle to interviews.

“I do, and I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but I know from taking care of people, I’ve learned a lot of things. I know the kind of innovation that someone out there wants to know,” he said. “Since I’m dealing with an audience that’s 55 and over, I have to put myself in that age group: ‘What do they want to know?’ How can I ask the right questions and present some very complicated subjects in a way they can understand.”

Dr. Soden relates to his viewers because he’s not unlike them.

“Most of us—like me, I’m 62—don’t feel our age inside. Some days I feel like I’m in my 20s. Mentally, I feel like I can keep up with anybody. But it’s like that saying, your mind sends messages your body can’t deliver. I think that is true.”

Many patients, including seniors, turn to the Internet for information before consulting a doctor.

“It is a concern. The Internet is like the best of times and the worst of times. So you have to be really careful. I only recommend a few sites for people to go through for credible information in digestible forms,” said Dr. Soden. “Very frankly, I think people wait a little longer to go to the doctor because they go to a WebMD.com. They have self-tests for people, and I think we’re going to see more of those things. We may get even more home diagnostics, where you can plug in numbers that you can generate yourself and learn if you’d better be concerned about something, like metabolic syndrome or diabetes.”

The Retirement Living Web site, www.rl.tv, is a good source for accurate information, Dr. Soden said. “We do a good job of giving people the ability to access different things that we talked about on ‘Healthline’—they can look up specific episodes. They can pick and choose and we have information there that can link to more information.”

In the 150-plus episodes of “Healthline” Dr. Soden has done, he’s covered a wide variety of subjects. The biggest response came from a show about the most intimate of human relations—sex.

The idea of doing a program about senior sex was one that he and his producer, Kathy Nelson, believed in. However, the network didn’t think it would be popular.

“It really resonated with people,” he said. “When I go out and meet with people and speak to groups, one of the things I’m asked is, ‘When are you going to do more on sex? How about dating?’”

Alzheimer’s disease is another major concern among seniors.

“Brain power is a big topic, and people are very worried about Alzheimer’s. They are concerned about dementia. Someone will say, ‘I feel in pretty good health, but I see people around me who are not doing well mentally. I don’t want to be a drain on my family. I want to be able to keep my faculties.’ We have more disposable income than other generations, but how are we going to use that money?”

Interestingly, while other Americans are concerned about the economics of health care and how to afford medical coverage, Dr. Soden doesn’t see that as a worry among seniors.

“I think in some ways they think they’re protected because of Medicare; they have the ability to pay for most of the things they need now. Is it ideal? No. But I think they are getting most of the services they want,” he said.

In his years of medical experience, Dr. Soden has seen changes in health care on the physician’s side as well as the patient’s. When he addresses medical school graduations, which he does every year, he has sound advice for new doctors.

“I tell them that they need to hone their diagnostic skills. You can’t just say, ‘Let’s do a CT scan.’ We’ve lost some of our ability to take a history and to examine people,” he said.

In addition to “Healthline,” Dr. Soden has a new show on RLTV.

“We’re doing a new show called ‘Whole Body Health.’ It’s 30 segments on complementary or alternative medicine. I personally believe the supposition there is a mind-body-spirit connection. Our generation of folks believes that as well, so we decided to do some things on all sorts of things, like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, Native American medicine, lots of different things.”