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Documenting the Power of Television – A Survey of Regular E.R. Viewers about Emergency Contraception – Summary of Findings html

Survey Of E.R. Viewers

March 31, 1997 – June 30, 1997

Kaiser Family Foundation

Summary Of Results

Introduction:

For all the suppositions about the importance of getting public health messages into entertainment media, very few evaluative studies, if any, have been done to measure the actual impact of such messages. This past April, The Kaiser Family Foundation saw an opportunity to conduct such a study.

We learned that the April 10 episode of ER would include mention of the topic of emergency contraception. The Foundation’s Director of Reproductive Health, Dr. Felicia Stewart, worked with ER‘s staff on their development of a vignette about a patient who has been the victim of a date rape, and who requests information about what she can do to prevent pregnancy.

The entire “date rape” vignette is no more than a couple of minutes long, and the mention of using birth control pills for emergency (post-coital) contraception is less than a minute. Nonetheless, we decided to survey ER viewers before and after the episode to see if we could detect a statistically significant difference in their awareness of the issue of emergency contraception after they had watched the episode. In late June, we repeated the survey to determine whether any changes in awareness of emergency contraception options were retained.

Methodology:

The study is composed of three separate surveys, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. The first survey (the “pre” survey) is based on telephone interviews with a representative sample of 400 regular ER viewers, that is, people who say that they watch at least three out of every four new episodes of the NBC medical drama ER. These interviews were conducted while the show was on mid-season hiatus, or showing re-runs, from March 31 through April 9, 1997.

The second survey (the “post” survey) is based on telephone interviews with an additional 305 regular ER viewers who reported watching the April 10, 1997 episode of ER. The interviews for this second survey were conducted from April 11 through April 17, 1997.

The third survey (the “follow-up” survey) is based on telephone interviews with an additional sample of 301 viewers who reported watching the April 10, 1997 episode of ER. The interviews for this third survey were conducted from June 25 through June 30, 1997. The sample for each of these surveys is weighted to be representative of all adults who watch at least three out of four new episodes of the show. The margin of error for the sample of 400 regular ER viewers is +/- 5%. The margin of error for the two samples of 305 and 301 viewers who watched the April 10 episode is +/- 6%.

Key Findings

Health topics in entertainment television shows can substantially increase viewers’ awareness of important health issues.

  • The number of ER viewers who knew that a woman has options for preventing pregnancy even after unprotected sex increased by 17 percentage points (from 50% to 67%) in the week after the April 10th episode, which included a brief mention of the topic.
  • Of those who knew there is something a woman can do to prevent pregnancy, the number who specified that she could take birth control pills (the method used on ER) went up by 23 percentage points in the week after the April 10th episode (from 10% to 33%).
  • Of those who were aware that there is something a woman can do to prevent pregnancy even after unprotected sex, 20% volunteered that they had learned about the issue on ER.
  • Given the size of the ER audience (34 million watched this episode), it is possible that 5-6 million people learned about emergency contraception for the first time from the show.

Without repetition, increased awareness from a single, brief exposure to a health message does not appear to be retained by viewers.

  • The increased awareness of emergency contraception did not persist over time: while immediately after the April 10th episode 67% of ER viewers knew that a woman has options for preventing pregnancy even after unprotected sex, only 50% retained that awareness two and a half months later.
  • Previous social science research has shown that repetition of messages is the key to increased comprehension and longer-term retention among audiences.

Television plays an important role in educating people on public health topics.

  • Even before the ER episode aired, those who knew about emergency contraception were far more likely to say they had learned about the issue from the media than from doctors or clinics — 63% said they had learned about emergency contraception from TV, while just 11% had learned about it from their doctor or clinic.

Including public health issues in entertainment shows can attract viewers to the program.

  • 53% of regular viewers say they learn about important health care issues from ER.
  • 62% of those who say they learn about health issues from ER also say that’s one of the reasons they watch the show, including 25% who said it was a “major” reason they watched the show.

ER viewers act on the public health information they learn from the show.

  • 32% of viewers say they personally get information from ER that helps them make choices about their own or their family’s health care.
  • 12% of viewers say they have actually taken the initiative to contact their doctor about an issue because of something they saw on ER.

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Chart 4
“Where did you hear about emergency contraception?” % Before
April 10 Episode Source % After
April 10 Episode 63 TV (other than ER) 59 31 Newspaper 29 0 ER 20 22 Magazine 19 11 Doctor/Clinic 12 8 Friend 7 6 Radio 3 4 Sex Ed Class 3 1 Spouse/Partner 0 *Note: Totals more than 100% due to multiple responses.

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