Close-up: Podcasts

Physician's Money Digest, May 2007, Volume 14, Issue 5

n.

Podcasts: A media file that is distributed over the Internet using syndicationfeeds for playback on portable media players and personal computers.

Tony Fadell had an idea. It was the year 2000, thenew millennium, and Fadell had visions of a newtype of MP3 player—a small, hard drive-basedplayer that was linked with a content delivery systemwhere users could legally obtain and download music.Rebuffed by several companies, Fadell turned to Apple,and on October 23, 2001, the iPod was born.

But, technology and innovation being what they are,downloading music and listening to it on an iPod was justthe tip of the iceberg. By 2003, regular podcasts beganappearing on popular Web sites, and they contained muchmore than just music. Podcasts became a popular and convenientway of sharing information—everything fromnews and sports to museum walking tours and the distributionof school lessons. And that also includes personalfinance information.

How Can I Use It?

One of the more popular ways to describe a podcast isto think of it as a radio show. If you're old enough toremember the small transistor radios of the 1960s, takethat technology and downsize it several times over, thenpersonalize the content and make it flexible enough to belistened to whenever and wherever you want.

With the transistor radio, listeners tuned in to hear aradiocast at a specified time. If you missed the start of theprogram, you were out of luck. But, with podcasts, consumersdon't tune in to a radiocast; instead, they choosewhen to download or subscribe. When you subscribe to aseries of podcasts, they're automatically downloaded toyour computer using what's called "really simple syndication"or, as it is more commonly known, an RSS feed. It'ssimilar to TiVo—it downloads the programs of yourchoice, and you can listen to them at your convenience.

And that's the beauty of podcasts. Even better, you donot need to run out and purchase an iPod or MP3 playerin order to listen to a podcast. Once a podcast is downloadedto your personal computer, you can also listen tothe podcast directly from the computer.

Harnessing the Resource

For physicians, podcasts can be an incredibly usefultool. According to an article on howstuffworks.com, podcastingis a free service that allows Internet users todownload audio files from a podcasting Web site. Forexample, PMDLive.com has podcasts on a wide range offinancial topics, putting financial information at your fingertipsat your convenience.

In addition, podcasting is free from government regulation.Unlike radio stations, you don't need to obtain alicense to broadcast, and you don't need to conform to theFederal Communication Commission's broadcast regulations.That can be both good and bad. But the "good" isthat physicians can develop their own podcasts as a wayto provide valuable medical and health care informationto their patients.

Physician's Money Digest

New England Journal of Medicine

As noted in a recent issue of ,publications like the and institutions like the Mayo Clinic offer podcasts on theirWeb sites as an additional method for providing the publicwith health care information. Why can't your medical practicedo the same? With consumers craving information onhow to improve their health and lifestyle, providing patientswith free health care information is another way forphysicians to help their practice stand out in the crowd.

The article on howstuffworks.com notes that while podcastingis still primarily used by "techies," it's beginning tocatch on with the general public. Many podcasters arestrictly amateurs broadcasting from "studios" in theirhomes. Podcasts can be a valuable source of informationfor physician-investors, and a medium for physicians toprovide information to their patients.

Taking Your First Steps as aListener and Podcaster

If you're unfamiliar with podcasts, the basicsare fairly easy to master. Howstuffworks.com offersthe following steps for listening to a podcast:

•Go to a podcasting site (you can Googlefinance podcasts and find more sites and topicsthan you ever imagined) to easily download thefree software.

•Click on the hyperlink for the podcast youwant to hear. You can download the podcast toyour iPod or MP3 player, or simply listen to it rightaway on your computer.

•You can then subscribe to one or more RSSfeeds. The podcasting software you downloadedwill check the RSS feeds regularly and automatically,pulling content that matches the playlist youset up.

If you're getting brave and want to record yourown podcast, either for fun or for use in your medicalpractice, follow these steps:

•Plug a USB headset with a microphone intoyour computer.

•Install an MP3 recorder for Windows, Mac,or Linux.

•Create an audio file by making a recordingand saving it as an MP3 file. The recording canconsist of talking, music, or both.

•Upload the MP3 audio file to one of the podcastingsites. FeedForAll software has a tutorial onhow to upload a file.

POPQUIZ

1) You can listen to podcasts on any of the followingexcept:

  1. iPod
  2. MP3 player
  3. Personal computer
  4. Transistor radio

2) Regular podcasts began in which year?

  1. 2001
  2. 2002
  3. 2003
  4. 2004

3) Podcasts are not regulated by the Federal CommunicationsCommission.

  1. True
  2. False

4) Podcasts are downloaded topersonal computers usingwhich technology?

  1. Cable modem
  2. RSS feed
  3. Satellite link
  4. Ship-to-shore signals

5) Physician practices can use podcasts to providehealth care information to their patients.

  1. True
  2. False

Answers: 1) d; 2) c; 3) a; 4) b; 5) a.