Ophthalmology podcast a new, useful information source

July 1, 2005

Imagine a CME-accredited ophthalmology radio show. That's the idea behind As Seen From Here (www.AsSeenFromHere.com), a new weekly audio program of interviews with recent authors of articles in ophthalmology peer-review journals. The audio program, which is free, automatically loads onto the iPods and computers of ophthalmologists across the United States and in a growing number of countries throughout the world.

As Seen From Here employs a new technology called "podcasting" that delivers audio programs directly to MP3 players and computers as if they were radios. But unlike other Internet audio, podcasts do not require listeners to sit at their computers to hear the programs.

What is a podcast? Although Internet audio or "Internet radio" has been around since 1995, like Web surfing, it has always required users to listen to the audio programming while sitting at their computers. The audio is "streamed" over the Internet and is received on the user's end by a program called a streaming client (e.g., Real Audio).

Podcasts work almost the same way as TiVo. You select the program you want to hear, and a piece of software called a "podcatcher" downloads it and stores it on your MP3 player or computer. The process is completely automated. Once you've selected your podcasts, they automatically appear on your player.

The difference between podcasts and TiVo is that while TiVo has several hundred television channels from which to record, there are more than 5,000 podcasts from which to choose. But as of the writing of this column, there is only one podcast for physicians, As Seen From Here.

A journal club in your gym Each episode of As Seen From Here is like a journal club led by the author of a paper. These guests are motivated to talk about their work and are in the best position to describe its relevance to us as clinicians. And since the programs load onto your MP3 player, you can listen while commuting or even while working out.

Recent guests have been interviewed from Vienna, London, and Jerusalem as well as from universities throughout North America. Although it might be possible to create a similar panel at a meeting, it would be impossible to do this on a weekly basis in any manner other than a podcast.

But to my mind, the most innovative feature of the podcast, and one that distinguishes it from other educational material, is that the listeners participate. As Seen From Here has telephone numbers in the United States and the United Kingdom for listeners to ask questions of guests who have appeared on the podcast. These questions are captured by computers and relayed to the guests, who then respond by calling in to the same line. The listener's question and the guest's response are then included in the following week's podcast.