Practice Management

A warning song to keep our children safe


  • It traces the origins of folk music and the importance of people like Lomax and Guthrie to collect and save Americana.
  • The magic of musical evolution – a reminder of how art is built on the work of those who came before, each version with its unique personality.
  • The release of “House of the Rising Sun” was a seminal, transformative moment when folk became rock music.
  • The lasting power of warning songs.
  • The hucksters that enabled this song to be kept alive.

That last one has really stuck with me. The medicine shows are an important part of American history. For instance, Coca-Cola started as one of those patent medicines; it was one of the many concoctions of the Atlanta pharmacist John Stith Pemberton, sold to treat all that ails us. Dr. Pepper, too, was a medicine in a sugary bottle – another that often contained alcohol or cocaine. Society wants a cure-all, and the marketing and selling done during these medicine shows offered placebos.

The hucksters exist in various forms today, selling detoxifications, magic diet cures, psychic powers of healing, or convincing parents that their kids don’t need vaccines. We need a warning song that goes viral to keep our children safe. We are blessed to be in a world without smallpox, almost rid of polio, and we have the knowledge and opportunity to rid the world of other preventable illnesses. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000; now, outbreaks emerge in every news cycle.

The CDC admits they have not been targeting misinformation well. How can we spread the science, the truth, the message faster than the lies? Better marketing? The answer may be through stories and narratives and song, with the backing of good science. “House of the Rising Sun” is a warning song. Maybe we need more. We need that deep history, that long trail to remind us of the world before vaccines, when everyone knew someone, either in their own household or next door, who succumbed to one of the childhood illnesses.

Let the “House of the Rising Sun” play on. Create a new version, and let that message reverberate, too.

Tell your children; they need to be vaccinated.

Dr. Messler is a hospitalist at Morton Plant Hospitalist group in Clearwater, Fla. He previously chaired SHM’s Quality and Patient Safety Committee and has been active in several SHM mentoring programs, most recently with Project BOOST and Glycemic Control. This article appeared originally in SHM's official blog The Hospital Leader. Read more recent posts here.


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