Saturday, April 17, 2010

The "House" Effect

I am a big fan of HOUSE M.D. series. Hugh Laurie gives an amazing portrayal of a misanthropic, miserable, yet genius Dr. House. An interesting article I read about media's influence on patients appeared in Yahoo News. This article was arguing that the ethical issues portrayed in Dr. House may have a negative effect on the viewers. If you have watched a single episode of House, you will realize that Dr. Gregory House is not so big on keeping the rules or following the ethical standards. Yet, he is respected by his colleagues and loved by many viewers.
A 2008 survey of medical and nursing students conducted by researchers at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University found that 65% of nursing students and 76% of medical students watch the program.

For these pre-health career oriented students, they have a better sense of the unrealistic scenarios depicted in the TV medical drama series. How about the regular viewers? What if they really think that there are leeways to hospital regulations and ways to bend medical staff's ethics? And are these exaggerated, yet amazingly interesting TV series always going to have a negative effect? I was surprised not to see the article mentioning some of the specific negative results from the "House" effect. Instead it said:
Still, a co-author of the new JME study, Ruth Faden, who is the director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics, says there isn't much evidence to support a negative "House effect" in real-life medical settings. She cites a 2002 report in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine as the closest to showing misconceptions about medical-procedure expectations derived from fictionalized TV depictions: in that study, researchers surveyed 820 young adults about their TV-consumption habits, knowledge about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and their expectation of survival of a patient who undergoes CPR in the hospital. The survey found that people who watched medical dramas were more likely than people who didn't to overestimate survival rates for patients needing CPR.

So, does this mean that as long as the viewers have the discretion not to follow the unethical deeds of the characters, the "House" effect can be positive? Yes, quite possibly. By raising commonly misled medical issues like HIV positive women cannot give birth to a healthy child, Grey's Anatomy made an episode that quite successfully clarified the misconception. Sometimes, TV series can be far more effective tool for education purposes because of palatability of information. In that case, TV may not necessarily be an idiot box for us after all.

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