Originally created 10/20/06

Product of change

In documenting the changing face of health care in America, filmmaker Frank Christopher found that the strongest statements are made with small stories.

Mr. Christopher, the executive producer of Remaking American Medicine, a four-part series currently airing on PBS, spent five years immersing himself in the challenges and changes affecting health care in the United States. The result is a three-part package that includes the PBS series, videos directed at health care professionals and a campaign designed to capitalize on conversations broached by the films.

The project began with nine months of research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, involving countless hours of interviews with doctors and patients. Mr. Christopher said that period proved essential to the project.

"When I was asked, five years ago, to make a film about quality improvement in health care, I wasn't even sure what that meant," he said. "I really entered into a learning process, learned how to tell a story that serves the profession itself and also make a film that would communicate with people that don't have a medical degree."

An important part of the equation, Mr. Christopher said, was finding hospitals and patients that illustrated sweeping changes in established thinking. His search eventually brought him to the Medical College of Georgia and a young cardiac patient named Daniel Moretz.

Daniel, his mother, Julie, and his entire family became integral components in the project that would eventually become MCG's Children's Medical Center, offering suggestions, support and a very public face for the center. It was during the filming of the MCG segment of Remaking American Medicine that Daniel died. The funeral appears in the film.

"It's amazing that we have a usable footage," Mr. Christopher said. "We were all so taken with the family, with the event, all in tears. It became a very difficult process."

In reviewing more than 100 hours of footage, Mr. Christopher found that while the focus was clearly on the Moretz family, the story was something else.

"I had to ensure that the story was not about this one individual's death, which was painful and heartfelt, but about the transformation of a hospital," he said. "The challenge there is when you see the transformation of a hospital, what you see is meetings."

Mr. Christopher's solution was to show not only how MCG had changed its basic approach to patients as a component in the healing process, but why. By highlighting stories such as Daniel's, simple stories that happen every day at MCG, he was able to put a human face on abstract ideas.

Although finding a way to filter big ideas into a few hours of film proved difficult, Mr. Christopher said equally stressful was the funding process.

"This was a very expensive project - $6.5 million for the whole thing," he said. "And I didn't know if I was going to have enough money to finish it until March of this year. I was actually counting down the days until I ran out of money. It was a very stressful thing."

Eventually, Mr. Christopher was able to capitalize on the relationships he had built while putting the project together and found some foundations that contributed the final $400,000.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Christopher screened the MCG episode for an Imperial Theatre audience that included many of the people who participated in the project. Beforehand, he said the opportunity to share those stories one last time was an important part of letting go and demonstrating exactly what it was he was trying to accomplish.

"What we wanted, what I hope we accomplished, was to create something that goes beyond four hours of television."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


What: Augusta's Julie Moretz is scheduled to appear today on ABC's Good Morning America to talk about the family's role in an upcoming PBS documentary, Remaking American Medicine. The last of the four parts, called Hand in Hand, features Mrs. Moretz's son, heart patient Daniel Moretz, and his long battle through surgeries and hospitalizations.

Where: The series will air on both Georgia Public Broadcasting and South Carolina ETV.

When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29


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