Published 7/1/2013
Michael F. Schafer, MD

Six Things to Know Before a Reporter Calls You

Free Academy resources make responding to the media simple and efficient

Michael F. Schafer, MD

It’s no surprise that national and local media often call orthopaedic surgeons for a medical opinion. Sometimes I am asked for a comment about a sports star’s injury and possible return to play; other times, a reporter may email a factual question about a diagnosis or treatment.

Responding to media inquiries in a timely manner is important, because reporters often work on deadlines. If an orthopaedic surgeon does not respond, the journalist may reach out to another medical professional, and the opportunity to include orthopaedics in the story is lost.

Media—whether print, radio, television, or video—is our gateway to the public and to future patients. I challenge each of you to consider the media our partner in disseminating accurate bone and joint health information.

Responding to media inquiries does not have to be a chore. The Academy has free resources that make responding to media calls and questions a breeze.

Free resources from the AAOS, such as copies of print public service announcements on a variety of topics, can help you prepare for media interviews.

The AAOS NewsRoom
is the hub for media-related member resources. You can find everything from multimedia public service campaigns that complement your interview to toolkits and templates to assist with your local media outreach. Topics range from distracted driving and scoliosis to trauma and sports injuries. Print, radio, and television ads are available for download in the NewsRoom.

Use these free resources as conversation pieces with the media; order some to hang on the walls in your office or distribute to patients. Sometimes reporters want a visual to complement the story. Why not direct them to an AAOS print ad?

Bridge the conversation
If the reporter’s questions are going in a direction you don’t necessarily want to address, consider using bridging or flagging techniques.

Bridging is an effective technique to change a negative question into a positive response. For example, the reporter says, “I’ve heard that this procedure has a high revision rate.” You could respond, “Although that might be true in some studies, my experience shows….”

Flagging is the use of transitional phrases to bring your key messages into the conversation. Words like “as,” “and,” “but,” “however,” or “in addition” help attach key messages to the reporter’s question.

Remember, you are always the expert and can control the interview. Use personal stories or experiences to help get your messages across. If the reporter asks for a specific statistic or wants to verify study results that you’re unfamiliar with, it’s perfectly fine to say “I don’t know, but let me do some research and get back to you on that.” The staff in the Academy’s public relations department are always happy to help you track down numbers or background.

More media-training techniques can be found in the Public and Media Relations Manual available at newsroom.aaos.org, under toolkits and templates in the member resources section.

OrthoInfo is your friend
OrthoInfo.org is the Academy’s patient education website, which contains more than 600 articles about fractures, sports injuries, joint replacement, and other orthopaedic topics written specifically for patients and their families. The site also includes the latest orthopaedic news and information on safety and prevention.

Before you return a reporter’s call or email, browse the site for any consumer-friendly prewritten tips. You can use these as background for your interview. As you talk with the reporter, introduce OrthoInfo.org as a resource for more information about treatments for back pain, or what to expect after a joint replacement. Ask the reporter to include a link to the site so that listeners, viewers, or readers can learn more about bone and joint health.

It’s all on the record
Assume that every microphone is always on and every camera is always rolling. This also applies to phone and email conversations. What you casually say to a reporter before the interview begins can often end up being used in the story.

Keep A Nation in Motion®
OrthoInfo.org has patient tips and background on common orthopaedic conditions, and ANationInMotion.org houses information on the value of orthopaedics, orthopaedic trends, bone and joint health, and more than 600 patient stories that illustrate the work orthopaedists do.

Tell every reporter you talk to about this campaign and how what orthopaedists do has a direct impact on a person’s mobility and quality of life. ANationInMotion.org also includes images, fact sheets, and links to a variety of other resources that you can forward to a reporter.

Stay away from ‘doctor-ese’
Most journalists are generalists who deal with a variety of topics. They may be quick studies, but lack a depth of knowledge on specific topics.

To make the most of the interview, use patient-friendly language as often as possible. Avoid medical jargon but, if you must use it to illustrate your point, explain it as you would for a patient who is sitting in your office. This will increase the likelihood that the story is easily understood and the information is correctly presented.

Here to help
Whether you consider yourself a media maven or a novice, public relations resources from the AAOS can help you effectively enhance the image of orthopaedic surgeons.

Each month, the Academy issues relevant and timely injury prevention information or summarizes clinical orthopaedic news that’s been reported in peer-reviewed journals. You don’t have to be a reporter to receive these updates, which can be helpful when you are talking with the media.

Email media@aaos.org and ask to be added to the Academy’s press release distribution list, so you can stay on top of the latest news in orthopaedics. You’ll automatically receive fresh new information that you can use when you are asked for an interview or media appearance.

If you have questions on any media-related opportunity, you can contact anyone in the Academy’s public relations department for help. Contact information can be found in the NewsRoom.

Michael F. Schafer, MD, chairs the AAOS Communications Cabinet.