GE goes to hospitals with Patient Channel

Sep 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

If you’re sick of TV advertising, a hospital bed might not be the best place for you.
GE Medical Systems, with the ad-sales and content-provision assistance of corporate sibling NBC, is launching the Patient Channel, a 24-7 advertising-supported network that will be available in patients’ hospital rooms.
The idea is that target-minded pharmaceutical and other advertisers reaching out directly to the consumer now will be able to focus directly on the patient and family members.
The goal of the Patient Channel is to be in 1,100 of the nation’s hospitals by the end of 2003, said Peter McCabe, general manager of GE Medical Systems’ Healthcare Leadership and Productivity Center, which is the corporate entity behind the channel.
The Patient Channel has been on the satellite since June and is already beaming into approximately 176 hospitals, but the formal launch doesn’t come until Sept. 24.
NBC’s ad sales force is out prospecting among approximately 35 major pharmaceutical companies and other health-care-oriented TV advertisers that might welcome the opportunity to reach the captive hospital audience, Mr. McCabe said. He estimated the channel’s potential universe to be approximately 62 million people per year.
Advertisers who sign on will be offered “metrics” in 2003 that will provide measures of the channel’s audience, Mr. McCabe said, though the company that will provide those metrics has not been selected.
In addition to helping sell the channel, NBC is providing guidance on how to make the programming more entertaining without losing the informational aspects, Mr. McCabe said.
“We’re out talking to everyone in the health-care industry,” said Kelly Peterson, director of network marketing for the channel. Ad sales possibilities include :10s, :15s, :30s, “branded, unbranded, billboards, infomercials,” she said.
The senior advertising agency executives whom Electronic Media contacted about the channel hadn’t heard of it yet but were intrigued nonetheless. “There’s probably interest in watching something if you’re hospitalized that relates to what you’re hospitalized for,” said one agency executive. “There’s something to be said for it, the same way that if you’re skiing you might want to watch a skiing program. Then after you break your leg, you can check into the hospital and watch this.”
So far, NBC itself isn’t providing any of the programming for the Patient Channel, although network-provided programming is a possibility by late 2003 or early 2004, Ms. Peterson said. Discussions about using NBC on-air talent on the channel are also under way, she added.
Current programming is coming from HLPC’s in-house staff, Mr. McCabe said, and from such companies as Britain’s ITV and Staywell/Medimedia, a large publisher specializing in health and wellness content.
HLPC, located in Waukesha, Wis., is in effect GE Medical’s school for employees and customers, training approximately 100,000 people per year in procedures and technologies necessary to understanding and operating the ultrasound, X-ray, MRI and other high-tech medical equipment that GE sells. In addition to that training, since 1992 GE Medical has operated the educational Training in Partnership satellite network, headquartered in studios at HLPC that NBC built.
The TIP Network currently is available in nearly 1,500 hospitals, each of which pays between $3,000 and $10,000 to receive training-oriented programming, some 90 percent of which is professionally accredited for doctors, nurses, technicians and other hospital staff. That existing satellite network forms the basis for the new ad-supported Patient Channel, which is being offered free to current TIP subscribers.
In form, programming and ad breaks on the Patient Channel will resemble other ad-supported TV shows, Mr. McCabe said, and there may be well-known (within the medical community) hosts too. But so far that’s where the resemblance stops.
No “American Idol” programming for the Patient Channel. Instead, viewers will be see programs telling them how to manage diabetes or what to expect from chemotherapy, Mr. McCabe said. A doctor, for example, might visit a post-operative cancer patient, tell the patient whether the surgery was successful and recommend a course of chemotherapy as the next step. Then the doctor would suggest that the patient tune into the channel at a particular time for an ad-supported show that would explain the hair loss, skin burns and other possible side effects that the patient could expect in the often traumatic process. The doctor might then follow up with a post-viewing visit to field questions.
Of course, most doctors’ interactions with patients are brief and often perfunctory. But delivering information to hospital patients is required by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and other regulatory bodies, and in theory hospitals that don’t do so risk losing their standing. So another inducement for hospitals to sign on is that the channel frees their already thinly spread nursing staffs from the additional responsibility of patient education. A related Patient Channel Web site will extend that information delivery outside the hospital.