Friday, September 23, 2011

Time Travel is a Weekly Occurrence on House

It's not just House. All medical TV shows, indeed all TV shows, engage in time travel.

I'm not talking about sci-fi plots involving meeting your grandparents when they were young, but the way a lab test involving cell cultures that takes weeks in the real world can produce results during the lunch break on TV. And of course, in order to keep emotions running high, patients wildly swing between full health and near death in minutes or hours of TV time.

Sometimes things do happen fast in real hospitals. The high-speed dance of a trauma team swooping in on a car crash survivor is wonderful to behold. But things almost always transpire at a much slower pace and with much less certainty. Doctors almost never know the full effects of their decisions right away, and when the results are known, they are almost always in-between; that is, neither a clear victory nor an absolute defeat, unlike on TV.

One doctor I interviewed for House, M.D. vs. Reality” put it this way:
“It’s always predicated on a clear-cut black-or-white outcome. Most of the time, for myself in pediatric nephrology [kidney disease in children], it’s rare for children to die in my subspecialty. I win, I lose. It’s all in very subtle gradations,” Dr. Howard Trachtman told me. Yet every now and then, things do happen quickly. Dr. Trachtman recounts one such case in which a patient declines rapidly and deeply. "The slope of her illness is so steep. It almost does remind me a little bit of a TV show. But that is so exceptional. They make it the rule. I find it to be the exception. Most of my encounters with patients are very, very evolutionary in nature. And most of what I do is a mixed blessing.”
The speed and certainty of TV medicine raises the expectations of patients to unrealistic heights. As a surgeon told me recently, "Patients think we should have all the answers within 45 minutes. I actually have told many [patients] that this isn't TV."

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

1 comment:

Dan said...

The accelerated pace of programs distort both ends of the medical encounter--exaggerating risk and remedy. For some, that likely does increase anxiety and, when something does happen, frustration since real-life interventions don’t often work as fast or as well as their TV counterparts. My “Reality TV” concern these days has to do with ignorant politicians who trash safe, effective vaccines. What a tragedy to think some women will forgo HPV vaccination and later suffer and die from cancers that were fully preventable. Public health and politics don’t mix.