Stuck on a desert island, I would hope to have a big, fat dictionary with me – preferably the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Sure, the 587,287 words in War and Peace would keep me amused for several days but once read I'd be unlikely to return to it. With the OED, there are more than 600,000 words for which the meanings, history and pronunciation are detailed. I wouldn't, of course, read it from cover to cover. I'd both look up specific words and open it at random to potentially learn words I'd not come across before. Call me a nodgecomb if you like, but I argue that such action is far from foolish.
I have similar feelings toward NHS Choices. I (along with millions of others) use it to access health information, find healthcare services and check the voracity of the latest tabloid health scare. I could also pick letters at random from the Health A-Z section to learn about Reye's syndrome, find that gynaecomastia is the correct term for "man boobs" or appreciate that if my fingertip suddenly becomes red, swollen and extremely painful it could a herpetic whitlow (a.k.a. whitlow finger).
Where's the remote?
The problem with both the OED and NHS Choices is that they're not on the TV. They're not in my living room at the press of a remote controller button. They don't come with expert presenters telling me things in words and images; there are no members of the public taking part in experiments or displaying horribly diseased parts of their bodies; nobody is confessing to never having visited a dentist and to using super glue to re-affix teeth that have fallen out. It's television that presents health and medicine as light (or not so light) entertainment – together with DIY, cookery, house hunting, gardening, ballroom dancing and many others.
A healthy list of programmes
Just recently on the BBC we've had The Truth About… series, Michael Mosley vs The Superbugs, Doctor in the House, Richard and Jaco: Life with Autism, Mike and Jules: While We Still Have Time and Obesity: How Prejudiced is the NHS? Across on Channel 4, there's The Health Detectives, Embarrassing Bodies, How to Get Fit Fast, Staying Healthy: A Doctor's Guide and a series of programmes and news items about mental health. The Discovery Channel on Sky, Virgin and BT TV airs a number of medical programmes within its home and health categorisation.
Offline TV still king
Interestingly, until it was axed in 2009, NHS Direct provided an interactive TV service via Sky Interactive. For a while, NHS Choices had channel 100 on Freeview. Now, NHS Choices is present on a website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These are all readily accessible platforms, which can also be seen on the move. The OED is also online (Adjective 1 Controlled by or connected to a computer. 1.1 (of an activity or service) available on or performed using the Internet or other computer network. Pronunciation /ɒnˈlʌɪn/) but any more than you'd watch NHS Choices, even if there was nothing on the other TV channels, you wouldn't watch OED online. Indeed, although online viewing of TV programmes has increased and peaks with events such as the Olympic Games, while in the UK we view between 90 and 95 billion minutes of television on our TV sets, we only view 1 to 1.5 billion minutes on other devices (http://www.barb.co.uk/trendspotting/analysis/online-tv-viewing/).
The next Brian Cox?
Get yourself on the telly if you want to make a real impact on the nation's health. I can't tell you how to do it but I have found this website which has a host of potentially useful links: http://wanttoworkintelevision.com/5148-2
Let me know when you'll be on and I'll tune in.
About the author
Amanda Atkin is a change management consultant focusing on the healthcare sector in which she has considerable expertise and experience. Amanda's skills range across contractual management, performance management, operational delivery and leadership development to strategic planning as well as governance and regulatory compliance.
e firstname.lastname@example.org www.atkinspire.co.uk