How House, M.D. is affecting patients’ expectations of medical care

More patients are expecting doctors to be more like Gregory House, the fictional doctor of Fox’s House, M.D.

But when you consider how much unnecessary testing is already going on, can this be a good idea?

How House, M.D. is affecting patients expectations of medical care Well, no. But that doesn’t stop a handful of patients with rare diseases to implore that their doctors do more testing: “Doctors say they’re seeing a rise in patients who’ve self-diagnosed a condition they saw on ‘House.’ . . . few are usually right, doctors say, but that doesn’t stop patients from expecting that physicians will run the complex and costly tests, such as those House routinely runs in the pursuit of a diagnosis. Not only are those tests often unneeded, doctors say, they can drive up the overall cost of health care.”

In reality, those with rare diseases take years to diagnose, and certainly not within the confines of a one hour television drama. It’s also important to note that it’s frustrating for doctors as well when patients cannot be diagnosed. After all, we’d like to know what the answer is as well.

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that some answers are infrequently black and white. Unlike television, there is no moment of revelation at the 55-minute mark. There’s a reason why rare diseases are difficult to diagnose.

And television shows like House, M.D. is doing real-life physicians a disservice by unreasonable ratcheting up patients’ expectations of what medical technology can do.

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  • Doc99

    OK … who really believes Greg House is a real doctor? Sheesh … meanwhile, the AMA is backing the biggest denier of claims in the US. I wish that were fiction too.

  • Undiagnosed

    It’s been 9 years since the symptoms first appeared and I still don’t have a diagnosis. Most of the doctors I have seen, when faced with spending the extraordinary amount of time needed to care for me, abandoned me. Five minute appointments, urgent care were detrimental to diagnosis and treamtent. Unfortunately, when I am asked how I am doing, I tell the doctor only enough to get the medication that makes me feel better. The doctor is not really interested in my quality of life…to open that door means the next patient would have to wait.

  • Diane J Standiford

    If my doctors would stop answering my questions with blank stares or turning around and typing my question into Google (YES! My neurologist did that) then I would have more confidence in them. They use the Internet for answers and so must we patients. My older Drs. are wiser and more experienced. On HOUSE, he has 4 other helpers to diagnose problems. I can’t afford that level of care. But, I do mention House, just to razz my primary doc. LOL

  • Nuclear Fire

    I guess I need to go buy a bunch of cool t-shirts and vintage sports coats to wear with my distressed jeans.

  • Febrifuge, PA-C

    As providers, we have to get comfortable with the idea that our patients participate in the popular culture, and that culture reflects and comments on what we do. Previous generations benefitted from the sense of mystery and esteem engendered by medical dramas that put doctors on a pedestal. Patients believed in Dr. Kildare and his unwavering dedication, even when many providers were less noble. It’s disingenuous to complain that patients expect too much of us, when nobody was objecting in the days when patients happily accepted “doctor’s orders” without question or complaint.

    And is it really that hard to talk to patients, and explain that TV isn’t real life? I’ve had good results just by acknowledging people’s feelings, showing that I know what they’re talking about, and even saying “I wish it was like that, but it’s not.” And House has been a feature of a couple of really good patient discussions. I’ve found people are generally accepting of the idea that we have to get Test A before we know whether it’s worthwhile to get Test B, if I use the show as an example.

    House teaches some horrible lessons about medicine, but unlike any other show, it demonstrates that it is a process, sometimes one involving trial-and-error. It also shows that not everyone who works to make people better is necessarily a saint, or even someone you’d want to have a beer with. We have an opportunity to benefit from those aspects, and it’s a shame not to.

  • Evinx

    Oh sure, whenever I have some ailment, I always seek out a pill addicted doctor who has spent time in a mental institution. Everyone knows they are the best diagnosticians. What about entertainment don’t your patients understand?

  • JenJen

    Hey maybe House will also teach patients not to expect too much of that warm fuzzy “compassion” stuff.

  • Danimal

    I’m quite disappointed with my doc. Not only does he not abuse and humiliate his subordinates, but he doesn’t even have an Olivia Wilde look-alike wandering around.

  • Diane J Standiford

    Febrifuge, You have the right idea. Taking new patients? I like smart doctors. You will not only be successful, but you will sleep soundly. I wish there were more of your kind.

  • taiki

    House should be also working the other way. I know that it’s probably a *bad* idea to call patients idiot to their face, but if they get their medical tips from House, maybe they’ll also not complain when you treat them like crap.

  • Wendy S. Harpham, MD

    As a physician-survivor, I’ve experienced from both sides of the stethoscope the difficulty of living with a difficult-to-diagnose condition:

    With hope, Wendy

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