Senate Doctors Show
From The Compass
How do you get elected officials to engage in a conversation with their constituents on a vast and contentious policy issue such as health care, in a way that facilitates an ongoing discussion? The Senate Republicans responded to this need by producing the Senate Doctors Show, a weekly Internet show hosted by the only two senators who are also medical doctors by profession, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla). The show, which started in the summer, features a discussion on the prominent issues related to health care, tapping into the unique perspective that both senators have as both doctors and policymakers.
The Senate Doctors Show airs twice weekly, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at 5:00 PM EST. Using e-mail and social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the show receives questions and comments from Capitol Hill visitors and constituents around the country, which the senators respond to. The show streams live, but its web page also hosts an archive of previous episodes, all of which are hosted on both YouTube and Ustream, making it easily available to the public, as well as journalists and bloggers.
Apart from being accessible on these two video distribution platforms, the show maintains an active presence on both Facebook and Twitter, which helps facilitate the kind of conversation that the show aims to have with its audience. In between shows, the team behind Senate Doctors continue to post links to articles and videos of interest, which often prompt a discussion on various points of the reform debate. The comments and questions that are left on the show's Facebook page or in tweets sent to @SenateDoctors help shape the issues that are tackled in the next episode of the show.
The show, which is primarily produced by the Senate Republican Committee in conjunction with the two senators' offices, has been successful in penetrating the discussion on health care reform, not just in conservative circles, as it continues to gain attention in blogs and in traditional news outlets. Before its inception, there was no sustained initiative of its kind to have representatives answer questions on the issues most pressing to the public mind. It continues to be heavily promoted by the Senate Republican Committee as the main venue by which Senate Republicans are responding to questions raised by their constituents, figuring prominently on their website and on the senators' own pages.
Over the past few months, the platform has continued to gain credence in this role, evidenced by a growing following on its social media outlets. During the August recess, the two senators also went on a tour of a few states, where they produced a series of the Senate Doctors Show "on the road." As they engaged locals in these constituencies and hosted fellow Republican officials on the show, they were able to expand the show's reach significantly, increasing the legitimacy with which the show is being looked on as a national resource for Senate Republicans' views on health care.
Implications for Future Policy Debates
As the Senate Doctors Show continues to contribute to the larger conversation on health care using channels which have traditionally been associated with citizen media and primarily user-generated content, it shows how the tools provided by new media and emerging shifts in cultural use of technology are changing the dynamic between politicians and their constituents. Increasingly, there is a clamor for and increased expectations for the kind of direct interaction and continuous conversation that elected officials should have with their constituents.
While the format of a town hall meeting has become more common, eventually becoming the battleground for health care over the August recess, it lacks the reliability and regularity that a question-and-answer series like the Senate Doctors Show provides to its audience. Clearly, it is becoming evident that what is needed is a venue where the public knows it can reach out to.
The creation of a similar WhiteHouse.gov initiative to provide a more regular conversation-style Q&A session led by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) shows that the need for a sustained conversation and consistent venue for an open discussion of policy is becoming more evident and important to fulfill. Could a regular conversation-style Internet show, similar to the kinds of Internet briefings that the Obama administration and different groups within congressional offices provide become an essential part of the policymaking process in the future?
- As regular online conversations between elected officials and their constituents become the norm, how can they be improved?