5 health care-related podcasts worth tuning into

Michael Joyce is a writer-producer with HealthNewsReview.org and tweets as @mlmjoyce

Over the past decade the number of podcast listeners has tripled.

Some would no doubt attribute that to growing numbers of cars and mobile devices.

For me the appeal of podcasts has always been the ‘theater of the mind.’

I don’t recall who it was that first dubbed radio the ‘theater of the mind’ (some say poet Stephen Vincent Benét), but I do remember comedian Steve Allen’s quip that “if radio is theater of the mind, then television is theater of the mindless.”

Whenever people ask me why I love radio — and they don’t seem impressed by my ‘theater of the mind’ rationale — I still have one trump card to play. I have them listen to Russ Hodges’ call of Bobby Thomson’s ‘shot heard ’round the world.’ THAT is radio!

And these are podcasts. Some old and some new. Some deeply involved in covering health care, and some that lightly touch upon it. But all are good. Very good.

The Recommended Dose • hosted by Ray Moynihan | published by Cochrane

This weekly podcast — just a month old — has already tackled genomic testing, racial inequality, over-diagnosis, and conflicts of interest between health care and the mega-industries of tobacco and prescription drugs.

The angle is evidence-based, which reflects the mission of the non-profit funder (Cochrane), and the career of its host: Ray Moynihan. He’s an investigative journalist, health researcher, and internationally recognized authority on evidence-based medicine and over-diagnosis. Thanks to his own connections, and those of Cochrane, he is able to interview some of the most influential voices in health care from around the world.

Moynihan, who’s worked in print and video, appreciates the “intimacy and fun” of podcasting. And he’s not afraid to bring a multidisciplinary approach. His next episode, which airs tomorrow, is a good example. It features British novelist Sarah Moss who — Moynihan said by email — “engages with healthcare in surprising and powerful ways.”

Here’s a chance to follow a podcast from its inception.

Science vs. • hosted by Wendy Zukerman | published by GimletMedia

Wendy Zukerman

This (almost) weekly show just turned two years old. It’s bold and adventurous, taking on an eclectic range of topics such as vitamins, ghosts, Bigfoot, the G-spot, acne, and anti-vaxxers. Given that HealthNewsReview.org has written dozens of stories on health claims regarding the intoxicating troika of chocolate/coffee/wine, you won’t want to miss this live episode recorded in May, 2017.

Wendy Zukerman is the high-octane host – an oddly hip science geek who makes the energizer bunny seem languid. Her passion is chasing down evidence in what she calls “a media world of puffery and opinion.”

I quite like that there is thoughtfully selected background reading to go with each episode.

If you’ve got a roughly half-hour commute, and you like the idea of a show that’s a cross between Fresh Air and Science Friday, then this is the podcast for you.

Methods • hosted by Brooke Borel | published by Caveat

How’s this for the theme of a podcast?

“[it’s] about how we know what we know, and why the way we get there matters”

Brooke Borel

There’s no question host Brooke Borel has the chops. She’s written for just about everybody, been an editor, and is the author of several books including the award-winning Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking. She interviews people who make their living scrutinizing facts – journalists, researchers, historians, and others – and reveals their methodology as they sort out certainty and uncertainty.

The show just started this summer and has aired 8 episodes so far. Although some episodes have touched on public health issues, this isn’t strictly speaking a health-focused show. It tends to pick topics you might find in magazines like National Geographic or Smithsonian.

It’s the emphasis on process that makes Methods so compelling. It’s worth keeping an eye on this podcast because — given the above theme — I think health care topics will become a natural choice.

And how can you not like a show with the sign-off: “… until next time, stay skeptical.”

Radiolab • hosted by Jad Abumrad & Robert Krulwich | published by WNYC

Fifteen years after it first went on the air, Radiolab continues to be a delightful experiment in radio: playing with sound, exploring ideas, animating stories.

Jad Abumrad & Robert Krulwich

Dozens of prestigious awards later it’s easy to forget that Radiolab has made major contributions to health journalism. When they do so it’s usually wide-ranging and far-reaching. Meandering through their archives — as good a rabbit hole as any to fall into — you’ll find topics ranging from poop to blood, genes to brains, and life to death.

Here are a couple to get you started: Match Made in Marrow (a fascinating story about a bone marrow donor and recipient meeting for the first time) … Playing God (what happens when people are placed in the position of choosing who lives and who dies?)

It’s great story-tellling. Not hyped. Almost always provocative. And if you’re not a fan of podcasts, keep in mind their website features a blog (under “Read” tab) which has interesting writing, videos, as well as comments from their dedicated listeners. 

And yes … (insert drumroll for shameless promotion here) … we have a podcast as well. It’s called the Health News Watchdog Podcast … and what makes it unique is that we always ask “what is the role (or impact) of the media with regard to this health care topic?”

We talk with patients, physicians, researchers and journalists. We cover ideas (conflicts of interest, over-diagnosis, direct-to-consumer marketing, health care reform), diseases (breast cancer, prostate cancer, migraines), and introduce you to revolutionary thinkers who challenge the status quo and guide listeners through the complexities and controversies of our healthcare system.

At the core of all our podcasts is the conviction that every health care story is ultimately a human story. And that’s what we try to capture.

ADDENDUM: November, 29, 2017

This is by no means an exhaustive list, merely a few that we think deserve your attention. There are many other excellent podcasts in health care and we’ve listed a few more below. Feel free to flag other favorites in the comments section.

You can find even more in this listing by the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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Comments (6)

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Lisa Randall

November 29, 2017 at 6:06 pm

I have always liked the CBC’s White Coat, Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman.

Charles Carter

November 29, 2017 at 11:29 pm

These all look fascinating, I’ll check them out.
But what podcast is Steve Allen on? (? You’re really telling your age.)

Jonathan Jarry

November 30, 2017 at 6:32 am

One of HealthNewsReviews’ own contributors, Dr. Christopher Labos, co-hosts a medical podcast with me (bias alert!), in which we look at the body of evidence on a particular health topic. It’s called, of course, The Body of Evidence. It’s on iTunes, Stitcher, and can be streamed from our website, http://www.bodyofevidence.ca.

    Kevin Lomangino

    November 30, 2017 at 9:04 am


    I didn’t realize Body of Evidence was also a podcast! I had only seen the videos. Thanks for the tip.

    Kevin Lomangino
    Managing Editor

Tim Kirn

November 30, 2017 at 6:07 pm

Thank you for the suggestions.
But, if I may make a suggestion myself?
How about a list of resources that we journalists can use in our working life.
This is all well and good if someone has the luxury of extra time and extra interest to look further into the thing that we spend eight-plus hours a day with already. But many of us have little of either.
What I am thinking of is this: Much of the time when I tackle a story for the first time, I have never encountered the subject before. I am at a loss as to what the difference is between primary and secondary hypertension. (Maybe?) I know — sort of — that you can treat migraines with ergotamines or biofeedback but I am really not sure how either works, or for whom. And, what the heck is ascites or Henoch-Schonlein purpura anyway?
And, these are the sorts of questions you cannot waste a source’s time with. Plus, they probably give you a funny “Oh-oh!” look when you ask it, because they realize now that half of what they are saying is sailing right over your head.
There used to only be the Merck Manual that you could go to for basic background in a clinical topic. But the manual is super dense, it does not get updated enough, and a person can read an entire entry and still not have the vaguest idea what the condition they just looked up is or how it is first treated, because it is written by professors who cannot explain things.
These days there are much better places to go, however.
For basic information on health conditions, there are innumerable YouTube channels for medical students such as Osmosis and armandohasudungan where you can find 10-20 minute videos that will give you a basic introduction to acute cholecystitis or peptic ulcers. (Think Khan Academy.)
For costs, there are healthcareBlueBook.com, Changehealthcare.com, Hospitalcompare.hhs.gov, and many others.
A listing of some of these resources might be quite helpful.
Healthnewsreview.org criticizes stories all the time for, say, leaving information out or not putting in proper context, etc. Oftentimes this occurs, I believe, simply because the amount of new information that a medical journalist must assimilate when reporting a story tends to be overwhelming.
Sports and government reporting is a bit easier in that way.
A good library helps. We could use one.
When I do a podcast, I tend to gravitate towards Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl (a former science writer, by the way) and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.