Podcast interview with Dr. Michael Banks, co-founder of The Doctor’s Channel (transcript)

This is a transcript of my recent podcast interview with Dr. Michael Banks.

David Williams:  This is David Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of The Health Business Blog. I am speaking today with Dr. Michael Banks, who is co-founder and vice president of The Doctor’s Channel. Michael, thanks for your time today.

Dr. Michael Banks:  Sure, thanks for having me David.

David:  Michael, how did you come up with the idea for The Doctor’s Channel?

Dr. Banks:  Well, the whole world is media snacking. Whether it is in health care or in other businesses or consumers, everybody is consuming their media in very small, digestible one to two minute bites. Whether it is looking at email on your iPhone, looking at RSS newsfeeds on your desktop or wherever you are, everyone is consuming media in very small chunks.

 When we thought about it, there is one audience that really has a short attention span, that has no time during the day to consume their information, and that is the doctor. So we wanted to create a website for physicians that could present cutting edge information in a peer to peer fashion, to provide rich information for physicians in an enjoyable fashion. Hence The Doctor’s Channel.

David:  So how does video fit in and why is this a good time to be introducing video to doctors?

Dr. Banks:  The whole world is going to video. People asked the same question 50, 60 years ago when they said ‘Why television?’ Because of course, it enhances the experience and doctors are consumers like everyone else. So, there is no reason why physicians need to just read print articles or they just need to read PowerPoint slides online or they need to get a small talking head in the corner with big PowerPoint slides. These videos certainly enhance any educational experience.

David:  I had a chance to look at the site and noticed that you have a pretty broad array of content on there. I saw one physician explaining clinical guidelines from one of the medical societies and then there were some pretty funny videos including some songs. You seem to have a daily program and then there are explanations of some pharmaceutical company trials.

What is the content strategy? What are you thinking about in the portfolio of content that you are presenting?

Dr. Banks:  Physicians are consumers just like anyone else. They are professionals and they are consumers. So, we want to give them video content that will appeal to all those different parts of their lives. They need cutting edge clinical information but they also need humor videos and they need lifestyle tips. A lot of physicians actually have said back to us, ‘The clinical information is great. We love the format. We also love the humor and keep the tips coming.’

That is the part of the site called Doc Life and that gives one to two minute tips about restaurants, theater or other kinds of non-medical, lifestyle tips for physicians. We try to feature different convention cities that the physicians may be going to so that they can really enhance their experience when they are traveling around the country.

David:  Some of that content sounds like something that people would like to see on other sorts of devices or in other places, too. Do you expect to package up some of the content that you have and put it on cable TV or other places just your website?

Dr. Banks:  Well, we are certainly going to be looking in terms of making it available on other devices, whether it is for the iPod or for other mobile devices. Cable television may be something that we would look at in the future.

David:  What do you expect the typical doctor would do as they start to use the site and get used to it? Is it something where they would come every day and spend a couple of minutes or would they cluster their time? What sort of pattern would you expect to emerge?

Dr. Banks:  There are two types of sites. There are destination sites where you go to browse, or you might go as a reference where you would expect all the different types of information. Initially we set the site up as a destination. We had hoped that people would go every day to look at what new videos have gone on the site. People have said back to us that they have gone to the site, they have browsed the videos. In fact, some physicians are even using it in a teaching setting and they are creating play lists around different topics and using it either in the classroom or using it for their own education.

David:  I have seen some places where you have been positioning The Doctor’s Channel as a sort of educational YouTube for physicians, which to me implies that people can upload their own content. You do have on the site a way that people can upload video. Maybe it is just the videos that I have seen, but most of them appear to be quite professionally produced with a consistent look to them and high production value. Is it, in fact, meant to be a site amateur videographers can produce something and upload it or is it really more of a professionally produced site?

Dr. Banks:  Well, people can produce their own video and upload it to the site. But, even if you look at YouTube, a very small percentage of the actual audience base uploads their own video. In fact, less than about 0.16% of viewers actually create their own videos. We never expected physicians to be out there in droves creating their own videos. We expected it to be less than YouTube, but certainly those physicians who are into video and want to make their own videos can go ahead and upload video to the site.

David:  You have established the company as a for-profit organization, so how do you expect to make money? What is the business model?

Dr. Banks:  It is a blended business model. We are going to be rolling out different types of programming that can be sponsored by different industries, whether it is the pharmaceutical industry or others. There will be the traditional banner ads. We will also be incorporating some new technologies into the site. It will be a blended model of custom videos for certain clients as well as different promotional programs.

David:  You have announced a variety of partnerships. One was with Ozmosis (and I did a podcast with the founder there a little while back.) You also have Doctor’s Digest and VerusMed and MD Net Guide and some hospitals and medical centers. How do you think about the partnership strategy and what do those different groups bring to you?

Dr. Banks:  Each group brings a different strength to the table. We are working with a number of different content partners to provide different types of content. So, for example, Doctor’s Digest will be one of our practice management providers. We are working with a number of academic institutions because they see the value in this form of education through videos, so that those doctors can be featured and explain the types of research that they are doing. They can explain the different types of programs that are going on at the individual hospitals. We have worked with a number of different academic centers, anywhere from Yale, to Temple, to University of Chicago, all the way out into Seattle, Seattle Children’s and Swedish Medical Center. So, they see the benefit and their doctors are featured. The research is highlighted. And then the Doctors Channel benefits from featuring those physicians, as well.

David:  In the case of Ozmosis, it sounds as though they are typifying or personifying what you described up front about a way for doctors to learn from one another and to interact. 

With Ozmosis people can actually discuss the videos. Is that what you have in mind with them? Are there other ways that you think about people learning from one another, communicating with one another on the site?

Dr. Banks:  Well, certainly Ozmosis does provide a closed network of physicians to discuss back and forth. Our philosophy with the Doctors Channel is that we are targeted to the physician audience but we are open. So, if consumers do eavesdrop on the site –and we have had some consumers eavesdrop on the site– it is like people watching The McLaughlin Group, or people watching experts debate a topic.

 Our philosophy is that if physicians are having a discussion, other people who can understand it at that level will benefit and should be allowed to view that conversation.

David:  As you think about measuring the success of the business and the growth, what are the kind of metrics you are looking at? Are you looking at the number of registered physicians or the number of page views? What do you look at and how is it going so far?

Dr. Banks:  The marks of success are fairly traditional: page views and registered physicians.

We are still in our launch phase. We are going to be announcing a number of new initiatives in the next few months that we think are really going to be driving both traffic and registered users to the site.

David:  How are you publicizing the site, beyond some of these partnerships?

Dr. Banks:  We are going to be releasing a series of press releases over the next few months, as well as some more academic partnerships. Really, we’re focused on promoting through the viral channel and through that physician-to-physician interaction.

We think that is the best way for physicians to discover the site. If they can discover it, watch a video, we think that they’ll be impressed with the type and the form of the content and that they’ll want to come back for more.

David:  What do you expect the pharmaceutical industry reaction to be? Are you positioning The Doctor’s Channel as a good way for them to reach physicians? How do you think some of the changes that are going on, in terms of pharmaceutical marketing practices, might affect your chances of being successful there?

Dr. Banks:  We think it will actually help The Doctor’s Channel, if anything. Because in an era where there is worry about bias and there’s worry about all the external things surrounding medicine, here’s something where clearly disclosure can be made if it is a pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring a program and it can get their message to the physician in a very short period of time in an engaging, interactive format.

David:  Do you think it will be helpful also in terms of how more and more physicians are not seeing pharmaceutical reps where they are working in organizations that have banned reps? Will it be a channel that the pharmaceutical industry can use to reach some of those difficult-to-see physicians?

Dr. Banks:  Absolutely. And we’ve had a lot of interest already from the pharmaceutical industry to put content on that will discuss their products and services in that engaging video format in one to two minutes. Of course, like you said, it’s becoming more and more difficult for representatives to get into those busy physicians’ offices whether by regulations or by the physician’s own decision.

 So here you can have a thought leader delivering a one to two minute message in the place of what would have been the sales representative.

David:  A lot of the video seems very educational. Is there a way that people can get CME credits for viewing?

Dr. Banks:  Yes, we’re actually going to be adding a CME activity center to the site in the upcoming months. We are partnering with Temple University and their CME department and a number of CME providers to provide content for The Doctor’s Channel. We call it Micro CMEs.

 So, we’re going to be featuring five to seven minute videos where the physician can watch, answer the questions and receive a quarter credit for each video. We’ll be having programs that range anywhere from a quarter credit to two credits in duration. And we’ve gotten a lot of interest already in those types of programs.

David:  As I look down on your site, I notice most of the categories are for different medical specialties and then for things like humor, as we discussed. But, I have to ask you, what is the Pharma Film Festival?

Dr. Banks:  The Pharma Film Festival, we’re very excited about. A lot of people will go to the physician and they may walk in and say: ‘Doc, I think, I have restless leg syndrome.


And then the physician will ask: ‘Why do you think you have restless leg syndrome?’

‘Well, I saw it on television.’

What do they expect the physician to do? They’re not going to go watch four hours of television waiting to see the commercial, so what we have created here is a central repository for all public service announcements and TV commercials produced by the pharmaceutical industry.

 So a physician can go in and find that public service announcement or television commercial here and view that on The Doctor’s Channel.

David:  Who’s going to be responsible for uploading those and also for taking them down?

Dr. Banks:  We’re working with different agencies on that process.

David: Sometimes a commercial is on and there is some objection to it from the regulatory authorities and then it is pulled. Of course, that’s when people are most interested to see what it actually said.

Do you have an idea of whether you would maintain some of those pulled commercials on the site?

Dr. Banks:  We would conform to whatever the current regulatory and legal environment was at the time.

David:  I’ve been speaking today with Dr. Michael Banks, co-founder and vice president at the Doctors Channel. Michael thanks for your time.

Dr. Banks:  Thanks again, David, for having me.

July 21, 2008

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