Media analysts say medical dramas like "House," as well as glowing news accounts of high-tech medicine, encourage patients to expect that the latest devices, drugs and other treatments will yield miraculous results. The downside of tests and treatments, such as their high costs and possible side effects, get less air time.
"There's a real disjuncture between the model [for health care that] policymakers are trying to push compared to T.V.," says Joe Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Turow's forthcoming book, an update to his 1989 volume "Playing Doctor," will examine medical dramas from "Marcus Welby, M.D.," which debuted in 1969, to "House" and "Grey's Anatomy." Television has consistently portrayed medicine as an unlimited resource, he says.
That message cuts against the one that President Barack Obama is trying to deliver: That the U.S. needs to save money by cutting unnecessary tests. Patients are "going to have to give up paying for things that don't make them healthier," he said during a July press conference. "I think that's the kind of change you want."
Yes, of course popular fictions color public perceptions of certain professions at the margins, but so what? Most pop culture isn't designed to inform, at least not in the way of a news article or a white paper, but to entertain. And thank goodness! Can you imagine, say, a "realistic" lawyer show? Hundreds of hours of tedious legal research, emailing, meetings, and note-taking? Same goes for medical dramas. Like the article says: "Advice such as 'watchful waiting' does not make for good storylines." As much as I admire realism in shows like The Wire, I also think it's overrated; for most people, real life is rather less thrilling than pop culture.