Healthcare + TV

Blog post by Colin Hung

This is one of my favorite times of the year. September is when the kids go back to school, the air turns crisp and TV shows debut/return. Yes, that’s right, I am old school – I still watch cable TV, but I do timeshift everything and stream a lot of stuff from the channels directly (that means I’m kind of cool right?)

These past few weeks the TV stations have been showing commercial after commercial hyping their fall TV lineup. I love these previews. One preview in particular caught my attention – NBC’s New Amsterdam medical drama.

This 30 second trailer is titled “Change the System” and features Dr Max Goodwin (actor Ryan Eggold) telling a room full of fellow physicians that “anyone that places billing above care will be terminated”. A few cut scenes later, Goodwin says “We all feel the system is too big to change, but guess what, we are the system and we need to change.”

What struck me about this trailer was how the show is clearly tapping into the public’s sentiment about medical billing and the perception that hospitals are only interested in billing vs patients. It’s smart marketing, but of course it is a woeful portrayal of the actual US healthcare system where there are many clinicians and organizations that care about their patients…right?

This trailer got me thinking about how healthcare is portrayed on TV and I thought it would make for a fun HCLDR discussion this week.

I’m going to date myself, but I remember as kid watching Jack Klugman on Quincy every day after school. I thought Dr Quincy was hilarious and I loved his gravely voice. I also remember watching St. Elsewhere (best theme song ever!) and later ER. I even watched a few episodes of General Hospital during the time when EVERYONE was watching to see what would happen to Robert Scorpio and Anna Devane. I never got into Grey’s Anatomy or Private Practice but my wife tells me both were good. I enjoy House when it’s on reruns and I have watched a few episodes of The Good Doctor.

TV healthcare dramas, are of course fictional places of fantasy, where doctors regularly save terminal patients with miracle cures, where no one seems to have to pay for care and where co-worker couples go on-and-off more times than a strobe light at a dance club (…and this is why I’m not a TV writer). But sometimes shows get it right.

I still remember the final episode of Dr Mark Greene – the stalwart doctor played by Anthony Edwards on ER – who died of a brain tumor. It was a beautiful episode that somehow did not dip into melodrama. I remember thinking of that episode years later when my father passed away of a brain tumor. Before my father fell into a coma we had the chance to say goodbye and I truly believe that in the end he had nothing but warm thoughts and pictures in his head of family/friends – just like Dr. Greene did. I choose to believe that.

The question often debated by healthcare insiders is whether or not healthcare dramas should more accurately reflect the actual healthcare system. It would be safe to say that the reality of healthcare has plenty of its own drama. We have “evil villains” like Elizabeth Holmes and Martin Shkreli. We have clashing industry titans like EPIC, Cerner and Allscripts. We have amazing technologies ripped from the pages of science fiction in AI, genomics and molecular medicine. We even have anti-heroes trying to change the system like ePatient Dave, Regina Holliday, Jen Horonjeff, Grace Cordovano, Nick Adkins and countless other members of the HCLDR community.

Plenty of source material.

But perhaps TV dramas aren’t supposed to be a flawless reflection of reality. After all, don’t we watch TV to escape from the world for an hour? Perhaps having nuggets of accuracy is sufficient?

Join me on Tuesday September 18th at 8:30pm (for your local time click here) when we will discuss Healthcare and TV:

  • T1 Which is your favorite healthcare related TV show? Why?
  • T2 What is the most outlandish thing you have seen regarding the portrayal of doctors, nurses or healthcare in general on TV?
  • T3 What aspect of healthcare do you wish would be portrayed accurately on TV?
  • T4 What impact (if any) do you believe fictional healthcare dramas on TV have on the actual healthcare system?

PS: for those that do not watch TV, substitute Netflix or YouTube in this blog.

Resources

Serrone RO, Weinberg JA, Goslar PW, et al. “Grey’s Anatomy effect: television portrayal of patients with trauma may cultivate unrealistic patient and family expectations after injury”,Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open, 2018;3:e000137. doi: 10.1136/tsaco-2017-000137, https://tsaco.bmj.com/content/3/1/e000137, accessed 16 September 2018

Schwei, Rebecca J et al. “Portrayal of Medical Decision Making around Medical Interventions Life-Saving Encounters on Three Medical Television Shows.” Health and technology 5.2 (2015): 155–160. PMC. Web. 17 Sept. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4605439/, accessed 16 September 2018

Tapper, Elliot. “Doctors on display: the evolution of television’s doctors”, Proceedings (Baylor University Medical Center), 2010;23(4):393-399, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943455/, accessed 16 September 2018

Abhyankar, Lalita MD. “Fox Should Pull the Plug on The Resident”, AAFP, 12 February 2018, https://www.aafp.org/news/blogs/freshperspectives/entry/20180212fp-badtv.html, accessed 16 September 2018

Beck, Julie. “Health Care in the Time of Grey’s Anatomy”, The Atlantic, 26 August 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/healthcare-in-the-time-of-greys-anatomy/379087/, accessed 16 September 2018

Turow, J. “Television entertainment and the US health-care debate”, The Lancet, 4 May 1996, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673696907473, accessed 16 September 2018

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