One of the last projects beloved Toronto physician Robert Buckman embarked on before he died was a collaboration with Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones to create a series of funny, engaging and educational health videos.
But the videos, which are about to be unveiled for the first time, more than three months after Dr. Buckman's death, also deliver a poignant message about how health professionals can use empathy, humour and goodwill to treat patients as real people instead of facts on a medical chart.
Dr. Buckman, a medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto who was also a writer, media personality and professor at the University of Toronto, believed passionately in the importance of good communication between doctors and patients.
He died on Oct. 9, 2011.
The day he died, Dr. Buckman was on a plane, returning to Toronto from London, where he had spent the week filming clips for the online video series.
The series, produced in collaboration with Lyceum Health, a Toronto-based company that focuses on creating patient and family education programs, is designed to deliver tips and strategies to help people take control of their health and manage chronic illness.
The clips use colloquial language and everyday situations injected with wit and humour to deliver simple health messages that people with chronic disease can incorporate into their lives.
The videos will be available on the website MyHealthTips.com starting on Monday. The site will also feature a variety of tools, including online support, meal planners, shopping guides and educational health content from celebrities, experts and other patients.
Subscriptions to the website cost $9.99 for a year and Lyceum chief executive officer George Thompson said some of the proceeds will go toward a foundation in Dr. Buckman's name. The company is also planning on creating more health-tip videos featuring a variety of different people in Dr. Buckman's place, Mr. Thompson said.
Brian Goldman, a physician and host of CBC Radio's White Coat, Black Art who is a spokesman for MyHealthTips.com, said the initiative aims to bridge the gap between the medical community and the patients they serve.
Dr. Buckman was renowned for his efforts to improve communication with patients and incorporate empathy, understanding and humour into bedside care.
"Rob Buckman was a maven at communication," Dr. Goldman said. "The thing he was most famous for in Canada, other than being a funny, articulate physician who worked in television and produced great documentaries, he was a great communicator and taught people, health professionals, how to communicate bad news to patients and how to foster better communication."
Dr. Buckman, who was originally from Britain, was well known for his humour and collaborated with another Monty Python alumnus, John Cleese, in the 1990s to create What You Really Need to Know About..., a video series about helping the general public deal with a medical diagnosis.
His collaboration with Terry Jones to produce this new video series was born out of the same desire to cut through scientific, medical jargon and empower patients to take control of their health. To do so, Dr. Buckman and Mr. Jones avoid falling into the trap of wagging their fingers at people's bad habits or using scare tactics to get them to change their behaviour.
"You tend to see these programs as being sanctimonious, preachy, telling you what you should do," Dr. Goldman said. "These are all funny and irreverent and they mock death."