When podcasts began appearing around 2004, capitalizing on the presence of MP3 players like the iPod, little did we know that they would eventually become a driving force in the wider culture, let alone in healthcare, nursing, medicine, and related fields.

Podcasts have emerged as a leading technology for disseminating opinion, entertainment, and information. Through the expanding podcast sphere, laypeople and professionals are leveraging the power of digital audio to create content covering most every aspect of human endeavor.

No matter how crowded the airwaves may appear, the podcast ecosystem is growing exponentially as an increasing number of producers and listeners discover one another. To that end, what is the potential meaning of the exploding healthcare podcast revolution?

Leveraging (and Becoming) the Media

Blogging was arguably the original emerging technology that allowed laypeople and professionals the means to circumvent traditional media and self-publish content as “citizen journalists.”

Social media added fuel to the fire for those wishing to make their thoughts available to the public without a gatekeeper in the way. And with platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and now TikTok, we’ve seen video become king for the creation of so-called “viral” content.

According to Statista, podcast growth is showing an upward trend:

Back in 2006, only 22 percent of the adult population in the United States was aware of podcasting. By 2020, this figure had risen to 75 percent. Podcasting is an increasingly popular pastime in the U.S. and there were an estimated 88 million podcast listeners in the country in 2019. Forecasts suggest that the number of podcast listeners will surpass 160 million in 2023 after increases of around 20 million each year.”

Statista has also elucidated that podcast listenership has increased among almost all age groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the ubiquity of digital media created by self-made journalists, we still see newspapers, magazines, radio, and television with a major share of the public’s attention, not to mention the tenacious grip of the burgeoning milieu of streaming services and the concomitant phenomenon of binge-watching.

However, proof positive of podcasts’ reach and social currency is the creation of countless podcasts by traditional media channels and industry giants eager to jump on this fast-moving train long out of the station. The space may be that much more robust and crowded with voices clamoring for the attention of a growing audience hungry for portable audio content, yet as mentioned above, audience growth is significant, and advertisers are thus also taking notice.

Healthcare on the Air

Especially for the last decade, we have seen nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals creating and launching innumerable podcasts. While many have “podfaded” (a popular term for a newer podcast suddenly going off the air without notice), an increasing number have demonstrated longevity and increasing quality of content and production.

Many healthcare podcasts are indeed produced by providers for other providers. For example, nursing podcasts may target audiences ranging from nurse informaticists and critical care nurses to students and new graduates. Meanwhile, physician-led podcasts might offer case studies and clinical deep dives for fellow colleagues (including links to continuing medical education credits), or perhaps interviews with leaders in medical innovation or the business of healthcare.

However, as the podcast realm expands and creativity and forward-thinking reign, the diversity of shows is evolving to include podcasts geared towards the general public, for patients with specific conditions, or even podcasts by patients for patients. Networks of related podcasts are also entering the conversation, further curating content for avid or overwhelmed listeners seeking recommendations.

Whither the Healthcare Podcast?

As the market demand for podcasts related to health and wellness, medicine, nursing, psychology, and related fields grows, content creators will continue to hear the call. And as podcast market share expands, advertisers and sponsors will further invest in the medium.

What potential outcomes might we see in the next five to ten years vis-à-vis the seemingly unstoppable healthcare-related podcast industry?

  • More specialized networks for niche podcasts and their listeners
  • Further availability of continuing education credits for listeners who are healthcare providers
  • More podcasts hosted by patients for patients
  • Podcasts where patients and providers have salient conversations
  • Innovation in styles of medical/healthcare storytelling and podcast format
  • An increasing number of podcasts hosted and produced by people of color
  • More podcasts geared towards practical solutions to common societal ills and giving voice to the disenfranchised or marginalized
  • Continued freedom of podcasters to launch shows on podcast hosting services free of corporate influence
  • Lack of movement towards industry consolidation and the stymying of freedom, creativity, and constructive criticism of the healthcare infrastructure and its many facets

The usefulness and potential positive impact of healthcare-related podcasts cannot be overstated. When independent voices free of industry influence can speak freely to a global audience, the collective conversation is improved and empowered. And when like-minded podcasters from related fields can band together in well-constructed networks in the best interests of both consumers and producers, the rising tide can effectively lift all boats.

Any media can be diminished to the lowest common denominator with the introduction of corporate money and influence. For now, since anyone with a smart phone can record and release a podcast, the balance of power still remains with the people. As long as tech giants and others do not attempt to squeeze the industry into prescribed boxes geared towards pleasing monied interests, the healthcare podcasting universe will continue to expand and evolve, benefiting society, healthcare providers, and consumers alike.