Sept 10 Chat – Changing Healthcare through Media and the Movies

EF_Stills_KeySet_2Post By Cristine Russell and Rebecca Stern for @EscapeFire 

The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” suggests that images have the power to convey complex ideas quickly and effectively. In tackling the complicated issues involved in health and healthcare in America, visual media can serve as a key tool to create conversations and bridge communication gaps between stakeholders. The more compelling, understandable, and shareable the content is, the more likely it will spark the discussion needed to bring a nebulous topic into focus.

Film, in particular, allows for these problems to be addressed on a large scale, providing a platform for patients and health care professionals alike to watch, enjoy, and discuss problems and solutions within their communities or within the current national dialogue around American healthcare. By showing relatable human stories, and presenting facts in an easily digestible visual manner, a film can create the opportunity to discuss a pervasive problem without losing much of the complexity surrounding the issue.

The issues facing the American healthcare system can feel immense. The cost of healthcare continues to rise and is predicted to reach $4.2 trillion annually within six years, or roughly 20% of our GDP. We pay more, yet our health outcomes are worse. About 65% of Americans are overweight, and almost 75% of healthcare costs are spent on largely preventable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, that are the major causes of disability and death in our society. Fee-for-service creates economic incentives that reward tests and treatment more than patient-centered preventive care.
In short, we have a disease management system not a health promotion system.

With specialized language and limited time, healthcare professionals may have a difficult time communicating with patients about why these trends continue and what they can do about it. For the layperson, the barriers to understanding, or even accessing, information about health and healthcare in the US can seem insurmountable.

EscapeFire_LoResThe award-winning feature-length documentary, ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, directed by Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke, puts the most pressing healthcare issues today into perspective for diverse and widespread audiences. It premiered at Sundance 2012, had theatrical distribution in fall 2012, and made its broadcast premiere on CNN in March 2013. It’s currently available on DVD and online.

Along with the film’s traditional distribution, we’ve launched an expansive outreach and engagement campaign that includes targeted efforts aimed at propelling America’s current and future healthcare practitioners and leaders to start discussions within their communities. Medical schools, hospitals, clinics, workplace health programs, grassroots community groups and even the military have used the film. These screenings are accompanied by Q & A or panel discussions with healthcare leaders and experts, and have generated curricula, clubs and service projects.  Extensive social media use has extended the conversation to new audiences.

On Tuesday, September 17, we’re hosting our second annual National University Screening Tour of the film at more than 80 medical and health professional schools and college campuses nationwide (find a screening near you here).

In addition, watching ESCAPE FIRE can qualify for professional Continuing Education Credit for clinicians. This unprecedented professional education opportunity provides a unique chance for healthcare providers to elevate and deepen the national dialogue about our healthcare system and our role in leading it out of crisis. Through incorporating ESCAPE FIRE into medical education, we hope the film will become a sustainable method to incite discussion and change in healthcare.

ESCAPE FIRE is just one example of how media can address crucial health issues. Other visual media examples include graphic public service anti-smoking television ads;  public health messages embedded in popular television shows; and even fictional medical and hospital dramas. Short educational health videos are available online on a variety of topics and are often popular additions to news and blog websites.  Creative outreach efforts are also encouraging the public, especially young people, to make their own videos (see federal Department of Health and Human Services short video contest).

We are excited to use this Tweet chat to engage with healthcare leaders around the world about the use of film and other visual media to transform health for the better. How can various forms of visual media be used to stimulate a richer discussion and search for unconventional solutions, or “escape fires,” to our current healthcare problems?

  • T1: How can visual media best be used to change healthcare?
  • T2: What works in communicating complicated messages in healthcare?
  • T3: How has the ESCAPE FIRE outreach and education campaign kept going?

Please join us on the weekly #HCLDR chat on Tuesday September 10, 2013 at 8:30pm Eastern Time (North America).

Cristine Russell (@russellcris) is a veteran science and health writer and consultant to ESCAPE FIRE. Rebecca Stern, outreach coordinator for the ESCAPE FIRE engagement team, can be reached at if you are interested in hosting a screening or have other questions.  


Website: (see the trailer here and the educational screening guide here)

iTunes: (See ESCAPE FIRE between September 17 and 30 for only 99 cents.)


ESCAPE FIRE First Aid Kit:

Continuing Education Credits:

ESCAPE FIRE Issues and additional articles:

Overtreated, a book by Shannon Brownlee:

‘Escape Fire’ Speech by Dr. Donald Berwick:


  1. […] a stimulating hour of discourse. I invite you to check out the transcript here. And here’s a link to the great blog post that introduced the […]

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