Hospital fires up news media interest with hot car livecast

Even on an overcast day, an Ontario hospital group drew record viewership for a Facebook Live broadcast about the dangers of leaving kids in hot cars. Best of all, TV loved it.

Every summer, emergency rooms treat children for heat-related distress after their parents leave them—even briefly—in a sweltering car.

An Ontario, Canada, hospital group came up with an idea: How about a Facebook Live broadcast in which an emergency room physician sits in a hot car and discusses the dangers?

If you figured there’d be little interest in watching a doctor sweat, you’d be wrong. Some 53,000 viewers have tuned in for a Facebook Live broadcast by Hamilton Health Sciences’ Dr. Anthony Crocco, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

TV stations and newspapers showed up to cover the livestream. Perhaps the demonstration brought home the realization that hot cars can bring on heat stroke quickly and with tragic consequences.

The livecast idea—the organization’s most successful to date—originated with a Hamilton Health Sciences communicator who was formerly a health reporter on a TV station. Elise Copps, a media relations specialist, said she planned to conduct such a demonstration, but the weather didn’t cooperate.

With her background in TV, she recognized the possibilities for broadcast reporters. Paramedics hooked Crocco up to monitors to keep tabs on his vital signs, and they stood by during the demonstration. The health care organization pitched the event in advance, and Copps’ instincts were right: They drew local and national media outlets.

“They’re increasingly relying on an online audience, so any of that interactive bonus material is really desirable,” she said.

Fahrenheit 140

Interest was high, even though it was overcast. Though the outside temperature was about 77 Fahrenheit (25 Celsius), inside the car—with all the windows sealed—the thermometer soon indicated 104 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius).

Minutes after the broadcast ended, the mercury in the car topped 140 Fahrenheit, or 60 degrees Celsius, said Scott Levely, digital communications lead.

The stunt drew the interest of both local and national news media. CTV News reported, “Ontario doctor swelters in hot car to show dangers to children,” and Huffington Post Canada headlined its piece, “Hamilton Doctor Locks Himself In Hot Car To Show Dangers Of Heat On Kids.”

“On average, 37 children die per year from heat stroke in cars in the U.S.,” Yahoo News Canada reported. “While there are no statistics available for Canada, there has been an uptick in news stories reporting these incidents.”

Because of the medium on Facebook Live, the hospital group’s communications team knew that TV would be the biggest PR win, Copps says. One reporter even went live as Crocco decided he’d had enough.

“They timed it so the anchor in studio threw to the reporter who was live on the scene just as Dr. Crocco was getting out of the car to finish his demonstration,” Copps says.

“For our audience watching on our Facebook page, it even added some additional credibility seeing the media in the shot, knowing this is something that would be reaching a wide audience and that they thought was worth covering as well.”

A press conference on a gurney

After the event, reporters interviewed Crocco as he sat on a gurney and paramedics checked his vital signs.

One reason for the success was Crocco’s personable approach and ability to explain medical terms in everyday language. He didn’t balk at describing himself as sweaty, explaining that the greatest danger starts once you stop sweating.

Also, though sweat cools the body, in the confined space of a car, it creates humidity, increasing one’s temperature even faster. Children’s car seats insulate their bodies, and as they get upset, they thrash around, creating additional body heat.

“Unfortunately, every year, kids are left in a hot environment,” Crocco says during the livecast. “Their body temperature is rising, and then they start to become comatose and have seizures, and that’s when kids can die.”

He adds that he wouldn’t have lasted four minutes if the temperature had been 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit).

Crocco fielded questions that popped up in the Facebook comments. “He sees all the comments and questions coming through from the audience on the phone as they’re typing them,” Levely says. “He’s interacting with any of the 30,000 people listening in, and [he] answers their questions real time.”

After the broadcast, Crocco answered reporters’ questions live, even as the Facebook audience continued to watch. FREE DOWNLOAD: How to publish patients’ comments to enhance your physician directory pages.

For the future, the Hamilton team took away a few pointers. Next time they will have more people there to help manage the journalists, Copps says. Also, simpler is better; the communicators used an iPhone 6 with a small directional mic and a device to attach the phone to the front headrest. (The doctor sat in the back seat.)

Beforehand, Hamilton Health care promoted the livecast with a $40 ad buy on Facebook, targeting people within a 40-mile radius of the city.

Live broadcasts have greater immediacy for viewers, Levely says.

“I just think it’s the authenticity of it: getting something that’s in the moment and not necessarily planned word for word,” he says.

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