Regional media: a forgotten frontier?

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A rivalry exists in Australia that spans from the East to West coast, encompassing health, education, the cost of living and even football. City versus country, regional versus metro; there is a clash occurring reminiscent of David vs. Goliath. Regardless of where your loyalties lie, with more than one third of Aussies calling regional Australia home, we have to ask – is it foolhardy to relegate our country cousins to second place?

Don't forget regional mediaRural and regional media outlets often play second fiddle to the likes of big guns such as The Sydney Morning Herald and Herald Sun. While the ability of national and major metropolitan media outlets to create mass awareness cannot be underestimated, the ‘local angle’ can be just as powerful – perhaps even more so when it comes to motivating people to behave in a different way or take action.

Adding credibility to this claim, a survey conducted by Roy Morgan Research reveals no medium is more effective at reaching country Australians than their local newspaper. Regional press is read by 7.3 million Australians – a figure not even the likes of Masterchef can compete with.  Bucking city trends, the steep downturn in readership figures experienced by our national and metro papers has not been felt by regional counterparts who have actually managed to increase their readership. 

With a greater Government focus on health in regional Australia, a unique opportunity beckons to put health back on the ‘bush telegraph’ agenda.

Just this week, the Government announced its first National Male Health Policy will soon be released, a policy shaped by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report: A Snapshot of Men’s Health in Regional and Remote Australia. This focus on regional and rural Australia illustrates the ever-increasing discrepancy between the health of ‘city slickers’ and that of our regional countrymen, and women. And although funding of targeted rural health programs increased by 45 per cent to $700 million in 2009-10, there still remains an opportunity to reach regional Aussies with targeted health information via the media outlets they consume most – knowledge is power after all.

When it comes to health information and proactive self-care, providing details on the latest in diabetes management or cancer treatment should not reflect the banana bread craze and reach our country counterparts months later. 

Regional Australia is too often relegated to the Australian media’s version of Shannon Noll - always the runner-up – but what about them? Be it the Goondiwindi Argus, NBN Coffs Harbour or Outback Radio 2WEB, perhaps regional media is the hidden jewel in our media crown.  National and major metropolitan news and information is important, however it is local content with localised messages which truly has the power to galvanise community empowerment and action.

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Paging Dr iPad?

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In true Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) fashion, the iPad launched last week with a bang. Apple’s slick answer to the tablet computer is essentially a bigger and better iPod Touch – sitting somewhere between smartphones and small computers.

Even before the gadget has hit Australian shores, speculation about the iPad has thundered through the community. Not surprisingly, it has also made noise in the medical area – after all, many healthcare professionals already use the iPhone and about 3,100 (granted, US-centric) health apps are already in existence. This week, 6minutes published an interesting article on the iPad’s potential role in medicine, which has already attracted mixed reviews of the device from local medics.

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad - Cube blog post

So, is it time to tout this new device as ‘iDoc’?

The reviews have certainly been mixed. While some suggest the iPad is what doctors have been dreaming of since the PC revolution began, others say the iPad is not ready for healthcare.

To focus on one area, many have discussed the iPad’s potential in the hospital setting. Will it help doctors with ward rounds – gathering and sharing patient information, as well as its use as a patient education tool? Features like portability, a high-definition colour touch screen, multimedia content and wireless connectivity may certainly help. However, critics list a plethora of reasons why the iPad has no place in the hospital. It’s inability to multitask or take a photo and lack of a USB port and Flash support.

Local physicians offer mixed reviews. Sydney General Practitioner Dr Raymond Seidler says that for a GP who likes gadgets, the sleek and stylish iPad has everything he wants. Both he and his 12-year-old daughter are eagerly awaiting the iPad – but for different reasons.

Dr Seidler’s daughter is looking forward to watching movies, checking her Facebook and downloading first-run books to take to school, without adding to the 15 kg to her backpack. While Dr Seidler will be able to check e-mail, YouTube and listen to podcasts from his favourite online sites, the BBC or the New Yorker.

Medical textbooks like Harrison’s online will be a click away and the large screen does away with my need for spectacles, which are necessary when I’m squinting at my tiny iPhone, he said.

Professor Jeff Szer, a Melbourne-based haematologist, agrees that technology like the iPhone/iPod Touch have a role to play in medicine. Professor Szer’s perspective on the iPad, however, is that the gadget is unlikely to change the face of how medicine is practiced.

This device has been preceded by a decade of tablet devices, none of which has found anything but niche uses in some health-related areas. I do not expect the iPad to be a game-changer.

While Professor Szer believes that “connectedness” is important for information exchange and communication in medicine, he will not rush out to buy an iPad.

A recent survey by Software Advice showed that while healthcare professionals welcome tablet computers and iPhones, this does not mean the iPad is the solution, as it lacks a number of fundamental features necessary in the healthcare field. 

The iPad certainly has its supporters and critics – but will it affect how medicine is practiced in Australia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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