Thursday, September 08, 2011

Oh, Just Watching the F****** Show!

That's a fairly representative comment from fans of "House" when they hear I've written two books that look into the reality of health care in the United States and compare it to what viewers see on the show.

By contrast, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals mostly (but not unanimously) support reality checks of TV shows like "House." More than once when I've been talking to a professional in a hospital or clinic about the types of things shown on TV, I've seen the light bulb go off over their heads. "So that's where they get these ideas!" they say. Many of them are too busy to watch much TV... or they can't put up with the distortions of their daily workplace reality... and so they are disconnected from the media images of health care that most of us see on the tube every day.

I'm never going to argue that prime time TV shows should be strictly realistic. Geez, that would be boring. In fact, it's almost more important that health care professionals and policy wonks pay attention to popular stories, including TV shows, about health care than it is for TV viewers to delve into the realities of what happens behind the scenes in hospitals and clinics. The professionals need to be in touch with the beliefs that help shape the expectations of patients.

What's more, images in popular media also influence our representatives in Washington, DC and state capitals. I interviewed a prominent researcher who studies nursing care. She recalled going to Washington and being shocked by the myths and misconceptions held by some people in power.

If you've ever spent time in a hospital, you know that most of the hands-on care you or your loved ones get is provided by nurses. Doctors make diagnoses and devise treatment plans, but it is nurses who really know what's going on with each patient. Improving the quality of health care means not just discovering new treatments, but also improving how care is delivered... and much of that work is in the domain of nurses. Yet when the researcher I was interviewing went to brief a senior U.S. Senator about the need to fund research into nursing, she says he seemed befuddled.

She recognized that the problem was that on the TV shows he watched, all the care was provided by the physician characters; nurses were portrayed as barely more than housekeepers. That's certainly House's attitude. And that's one reason why these shows are more than just amusing entertainment. 

See the full discussion in “House, M.D. vs. Reality

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