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AILING? YOU CAN TURN TO VCR FOR HELP

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop hasn't rested a minute since leaving office in 1989.

He created the Koop Institute and the Koop Foundation to improve America's health. He runs the Safe Kids Campaign to reduce child deaths by injury. He launched Shape Up America to stop couch potatoes from snacking their way into obesity.And when Time-Life Medical approached him about hosting a series of videos on the 30 most-diagnosed medical conditions, Koop, 79, found time to oblige.

"This will change the way medicine is practiced," he vows.

The videos explain such conditions as alcoholism, breast cancer, diabetes, infertility, pregnancy, prostate cancer, skin cancer and depression.

"The purpose is to share a foundation of knowledge, and then the patient goes back to their doctor or other resources for specific tips," says Florence Comite, a physician and Yale University School of Medicine instructor whose symposium on women's health inspired the video series.

Information on the tapes is geared toward the newly diagnosed patient. It is divided into four segments: "Understanding the Diagnosis," "What Happens Next?," "Treatment and Management" and "Issues and Answers."

In addition to Koop's introduction, the programs are narrated by such widely known journalists as Linda Ellerbee and Boyd Matson. Each 30-minute video is accompanied by a 22-page personal work-book.

They are available at pharmacies for a suggested price of $19.95.

Increased patient loads have reduced the time physicians can spend with patients. With most doctor visits limited to 14 minutes, scant time is available to help patients understand their diagnosis.

"They're in shock, anxious. It's hard to hear," Comite says.

Armed with a video, patients can explore their diagnosis in the privacy of their homes with the luxury of time. Didn't catch that explanation? Rewind and hear it again.

Participating in the videos are real doctors and patients sharing their experiences. Glossaries in each kit define pertinent medical terms.

Koop, who still looks every inch the sea captain with his square jaw and fringe of beard, is passionate about the project.

"I think this will make as much a difference as anything I've done," he says.

These are not the first videos to discuss health issues, but he believes they are the first by an independent source. Materials peddled by drug companies generally promote their own products.

"This bias is only for the patient," Koop says.

More than 100 sources were consulted in producing the videos - agencies and organizations such as the American Cancer Association, American Psychiatric Association and the American Heart Association.

The material was written to inform, but not talk down to, consumers. Koop believes the format makes it easily comprehensible. While not every viewer is a college graduate, "everyone in the country has a master's degree in television," he says.

The challenge was to make the information applicable to a range of patients.

Programs will be reviewed periodically with an eye on medical breakthroughs and will be updated as new information becomes available.

Because the videos are shot in a digitized format, outdated information can easily be removed and new segments inserted.

This first series covers the 30 most prevalent health conditions, suffered by an estimated 600 million Americans. In a population of 250 million, many patients obviously suffer in triplicate.

So far, "Depression: At Time of Diagnosis" is the best seller.

Later this year, other topics will be added. Plans also call for making the videos available in Spanish.

Americans want to be healthy but need help, Comite says.

"This has to do with an enlightened baby boom population: `I want to stay informed.' We all want to own responsibility," she says. "You need to understand individual issues."