Top 10 Tips for Physicians

A reporter calls. She needs a medical authority to comment on a hot new topic in your field of expertise – and she needs the interview today. What should you do?

Say “yes” advises Candace BelAir, television health reporter turned medical media consultant, Seattle. “Make sure you understand the topic and feel qualified to talk about it,” she warns. “If so, accept the offer. Your message can reach an unbelievable number of people.”

BelAir says a successful interview hinges on a physician’s understanding of the basic aim of most reporters. “Reporters usually want what they refer to as “quick and dirty,” she explains. “Their mission is to get in and out of your office as quickly as possible so they can meet their deadlines.”

To help reporters meet their goals and, at the same time, fulfill your expectations for media exposure, you must understand underlying rules. BelAir says that physicians who learn the following “insider’s tips” are likely to make media exposure a win-win situation.

1. Prepare.
Ask the reporter to clearly define the topic and list two or three possible questions. If you can’t discuss the topic spontaneously, pass up the interview. However, don’t ask to see questions in advance. Reporters won’t allow you to, and even if they did, you would lose your spontaneity.

2. Get to the point.
“Sound bites” – short statements that tell the essence of the story – are equally important for print and broadcast reporters who want to keep the attention of readers and viewers. Keep your comments short and sweet.

3. Use clear examples and avoid acronyms.
Instead of saying, “48 million Americans will suffer back trouble,” say “About one in five Americans will suffer back trouble.” Instead of referring to “PMA,” say “Progressive Muscular Atrophy,” “Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association” or “Positive Mental Attitude” – whichever is correct.

4. Avoid jargon.
Don’t be afraid to appear too simplistic or conversational. Instead of talking about a “lesion,” say, “bump.”

5. Don’t fudge answers.
If you give inaccurate information, you lose credibility. If you don’t know something, offer to find the information or refer the reporter to a knowledgeable source.

6. Don’t bad-mouth anyone.
Controversial or negative comments are the ones that end up in print or on television.

7. Don’t go off the record.
Reporters are not always obligated to keep your comments confidential. With few exceptions, you should not make any comments you wouldn’t want broadcasted.

8. Tape the interview.
Ask the reporter for permission to tape the interview to emphasize your desire for accuracy and lessen your odds of being misquoted.

9. Clean your desk.
A good reporter notices everything in your environment, including confidential papers and memos.

10. Don’t ask to “clear” the story.
Practical and ethical constraints don’t allow reporters to grant that request, and demands to review the piece will shut the door on future interviews.

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