Neal Baer, Producer of Law and Order SVU regularly uses public health information to help craft stories. In one episode he used information around HPV (Human Papillomavirus) and its causal relationship to cervical cancer within the storyline. The goal was to help educate the public watching SVU Law and Order about HPV and its relationship to cervical cancer.
It’s important to note that persistent HPV infections are recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer.
What’s particularly interesting in this case is that NBC and Kaiser Permanente partnered together and ran a study on the level of HPV awareness bracketing the time before and after the HPV-centered episode aired. They looked at people’s awareness one week before the show, one week after, and six weeks after. The study showed that the audience learned the most about HPV in the week following the air date.
The most significant change in people’s knowledge is their increased awareness about the causal relationship between HPV and cervical cancer when comparing one week before and one week after the show aired. 41% more people understood the causal relationship after the show aired. This is fairly complex information to understand and retain, and it shows the power and effectiveness of storytelling to increase the retention of complex information.
In 2008, Neal Baer spoke further about how he uses incorporates meaningful information, including health-related issues, into storylines. And more recently, Neal spoke at an IDEO event about the power of storytelling.