Charged with being all down-to-earth and accessible, the first thing doctors John Martin and Briana Walton did was lose the white coats. Then they got down to business.
"I'm really very surprised that so many people came out," said a smiling Martin. "Absolutely," nodded a smiling Walton.
And thus it went Tuesday evening at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, as the hospital unveiled its monthly "DocsTalk" gatherings. Determined to make these informal health-information sessions as entertaining and jargon-free as possible, the hospital has come up with an approach that's equal parts "Today Show" and "Dr. Oz," but without the TV cameras. Some 200 people, predominantly older and mostly women, turned out for Tuesday's inaugural session.
The overriding concern, hospital officials said, was to move past the droning lectures and unimaginative presentations that have been typical of such outreach sessions.
"We wanted to do something that is a little more relevant to how people take in information these days," said Chad Dillard, AAMC's executive director of marketing and communications. "The question was, 'How do we have more of a conversation, one that's more two-way?'"
Such traditional sessions, he said, while informative, could prove taxing. "We basically said, 'No PowerPoint.' People use it as a crutch these days."
Sure enough, there were no projected slides and bullet points at the session, which was held in the hospital's Health Sciences Pavilion. Most of the evening consisted of the hosts, chosen from among several doctors on the hospital staff, and the evening's two "special guests," one there to speak about breast cancer detection and prevention, the other about heart disease.
The mood was determinedly informal. Urologist Robert Hanley, dressed in his scrubs and looking as if he had just stepped out of the operating room, opened the show by introducing his "two favorite colleagues." Martin and Walton quickly began engaging in the sort of breezy repartee that would characterize the evening: Martin, a heart specialist, cracked that he had suggested they be introduced as "Beauty and the Beast," while Walton, who heads the hospital's Women's Center for Public Health, reminded everyone that "our bodies are always trying to tell us things."
Spreading the gospel of prevention proved the focus of the evening. Lorraine Tafra of AAMC's Breast Center emphasized the importance of early detection and of being aware of who is at increased risk for breast cancer. Likewise, heart specialist Barbara Hutchinson emphasized the importance of exercise and eating right in the prevention of heart disease.
Both doctors said it was vital that people know their own statistics: their cholesterol count, blood pressure and other measures. In fact, as the hourlong session wrapped up with all four doctors seated onstage and smiling, both hosts said that was among the most important things they took away from the evening.
"Good health doesn't happen by itself," Walton offered as a parting shot, to warm applause from the crowd. Many of those who attended remained, heading for question-and-answer sessions with other doctors that were run nearby.
Most of the audience clearly enjoyed the session. Quips from both Walton and Martin were greeted with appreciative laughter, even when Martin turned things ever-so-slightly risque by cracking that he was familiar with what breasts looked like. A show of hands revealed that about two-thirds of the audience would be willing to come back for the next session, set for Nov. 17.
"I loved it," said Ellen Foxwell, 69, of Annapolis, a patient of Dr. Walton's. "I liked how they explained things in layman's terms, not doctor's terms. I think I'll have to be changing a lot of my habits."
Bill Romano, 77, who came over the Bay Bridge from Grasonville to attend the session, agreed that the doctors put on a show that was both entertaining and informative. "The one doctor, John, I liked his style, he kept things loose and informal. And there was not a lot of doctor talk."
Not everyone in the audience, however, was buying what AAMC was selling. "I thought it was extremely patronizing," said Claudia McLaughlin, a retired high school teacher from Annapolis who was sitting in the middle of a row of women who pointedly did not raise their hands when the audience was asked who would be coming back next time.
"I don't think we learned anything from them that most of us didn't already know," she said. "I thought that Dr. Martin was trying to be funny, and wasn't funny."
Still, the people responsible for DocsTalk seemed happy with the end result. As far as they can determine, no hospitals anywhere are trying something like this. Walton, who said jokingly that she prepared for her hosting debut by drinking lots of highly caffeinated Mountain Dew, pronounced the evening a success.
"After a while, it just felt like I was talking to some colleagues," she said. "I think the patients got the message."
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