You know healthcare communication is getting hot when even Bill Gates is getting into the act. I was fascinated last December by the announcement of the Gates Foundation's funding of healthcare coverage for major news outlets such as "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and the funding of healthcare journalism scholarships. Gates also provided funding for a University of Southern California program that advises television and film writers on medical issues. (New York Times, "Gates Foundation Gives Millions for coverage of World Health".)
Now the Gates Foundation is investing even more in their belief in the power of popular culture to change health behaviors. (04-02-09 NYT, "Messages with a Mission".) It's working directly with Viacom to embed health messages into popular television shows. The recent episode of ER that featured the return of George Clooney is an example of this initiative. It is the philanthropic corollary to product placement deals. The foundation will provide funds to third parties that create content for Viacom. This underscores the importance of popular culture as a vehicle for healthcare messages and a potentially influential venue for healthcare marketers to explore.