Doctor's rap on H1N1 prevention wins HHS contest
■ A New York physician's video went viral online after beating more than 240 entries to air on TV this fall as a public service announcement.
Sporting a pair of stylish aviator sunglasses as a hip-hop beat swells on the soundtrack, John D. Clarke, MD, seems at home in the rap video for which he won a national contest to find the best flu-prevention public service announcement.
But the first giveaway that the lyrics to this rap will stray far from typical Jay-Z fare is a close-up of Dr. Clarke's name in script over the pocket on his white coat. Then he dishes out the rhyme: "Hand sanitizer, I advise you get it -- why? It makes germs die when you rub and let it dry."
The minute-long music video also advises patients to seek medical care if they believe they are infected with influenza A(H1N1), stay home when sick, use tissues when sneezing, wash their hands for 20 seconds, and avoid touching the nose, eyes and mouth.
The Dept. of Health and Human Services contest is part of the federal government's effort to spread the word far and wide on how to avoid both the seasonal flu and H1N1. The novel H1N1 virus could infect up to 50% of Americans, hospitalizing 1.8 million patients and killing 30,000 to 90,000, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimated in August. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the first shipments of H1N1 flu vaccine could be in doctors' offices by mid-October.
The winning video concludes with Dr. Clarke urging viewers to learn more at flu.gov, the HHS Web site about flu and H1N1 prevention and immunization. The "H1N1 Rap" and nine other finalist videos are available on the HHS site. At this story's deadline, Dr. Clarke's video had received more than 130,000 views.
Dr. Clarke, 38, has been rapping since he was 8 and performing what he calls "health hop" since 1997. The Baldwin, N.Y., family physician visits schools, conferences and fairs to rap on medical topics, including asthma and sickle-cell anemia.
The power of rhyming
"Rap is a great learning tool, because it incorporates rhythm and rhyme, and that helps the message stick in your mind," said Dr. Clarke, an occupational medicine specialist who works for Take Care Health Employer Solutions and serves as medical director of the Long Island Rail Road.
"The music video is the best way to communicate if you want to get a message to stick with someone, because it stimulates all the ways to learn something -- the audio aspect, the visual aspect and the bodily kinesthetic," he said.
It took Dr. Clarke three months to write the lyrics and music and produce the video, which was shot at the Mineola, N.Y., commuter railroad station. More than 240 videos were entered in the HHS contest by the August deadline.
An expert panel narrowed the field to 10, and a month and more than 50,000 votes later, Dr. Clarke's video was the winner.
He earned a $2,500 prize, which he plans to donate to an area Shriners children's hospital.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius congratulated Dr. Clarke for a "creative and engaging video," adding that "his work will reach millions of Americans this flu season to remind them how to stay healthy." The video will be used on government Web sites as well as airing on national TV this fall, HHS said.
To work, message needs airtime
Infectious diseases expert Litjen Tan, PhD, the AMA's director of medicine and public health, said Dr. Clarke's rap may help spread the critical message about flu prevention.
"He has a potential to hit home with some of the urban youths and ethnic minorities we've not reached so well," Tan said.
It was "innovative of HHS to think of going this way with social marketing and viral techniques," Tan said. "What we're seeing is the recognition that social media comes from the people. You think about YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, and it's about connecting people through languages and cultural events they can understand and connect with."
The flu-prevention message means more when it comes from a doctor, because research shows that patients trust physicians as medical communicators, said K. "Vish" Viswanath, PhD, associate professor for health communication in the Dept. of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts.
Viswanath said Dr. Clarke's video might help reach audiences who typically tune out government PSAs. But, he added, the video's inherent appeal and message will go only so far.
"The question is whether this video will get the airtime it needs," Viswanath said. "It makes a big difference, because what we have found in all the research is one word: exposure, exposure, exposure. ... That's the key to having an impact on the intended audience."