Is there a doctor in House?

20 04 2009

I’m not a particular fan of medical TV Shows – okay, who doesn’t like Scrubs – I guess I mean medical dramas.

Too many plots and too many issues, and perhaps occasionally a little overdramatic when it comes to scientific accuracy (something you can hardly fault a comedy for).

So it does intrigue me that medical dramas like House and Gray’s Anatomy are being considered educational tools in medical hospitals. No, not on how to perform an Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction- but precisely about those plots and issues that seem superfluous to the medicine.

Like it or not, medicine in modern times is increasingly considered a service. Doctors are care providers with a client base of patients – and they need to be able to communicate effectively with these clients. Some people even think this leads to greater quality of care. Being a person plus a doctor was a hot topic when I had an early interview for undergrad medicine – and it still remains one today.

But yet, even if I ignore some of the factual abberancies, the ads on channel Ten don’t give me the impression that House is a people person. I am somewhat surprised that this was the show selected to demonstrate care regarding delicate and sensitive patient issues. Can you learn from watching a rogue of a drug addled cripple explain to a female model’s father that the reason why she keeps trying to sleep with him is because of testicle cancer, oh, and she has testicles, which means she is a he, which also means not only is that incest, but gay too?*

Apparently researchers University of British Columbia think so. Or at least they report that the medical students themselves think so.

Students attended a half day session in which they were given a presentation on effective communication and then sat down to watch two episodes of House and an episode of Gray’s. I do not think the incest model with testicular cancer episode was one:

The episodes were selected by one of the chief medical residents who screen played the entire first season of both shows. The nature of the episodes were carefully chosen to depict important and sensitive situations with respect to doctor-patient communication. These excerpts represented 3 clinical scenarios that are articulated in the core competencies of effective communication as documented by the educational accreditation body, namely, addressing end-of life issues, attending to psychosocial aspects of illness, and disclosing medical errors.

Before the session, students were asked to rate their understanding of selected elements regarding effective patient rapport, and also their personal comfort in dealing with difficult patient issues (the three scenarios above). They then completed a similar self assessment after the session.

Student self assessed scores increased after the session (by about 1 rank out  of 5), some with statistical measure of significance (P≥0.001). The authors concede that the measures are not independently assessed attributes, nor did the study compare this with a control or alternate intervention, nor does it mean the effect is long term.  But, at the very least, the results suggest that medical dramas are an effective tool in medical education (without a measure of effectiveness compared to anything else).

Props also must be given for the portmanteau of “cinemeducation” – combining cinema, medical and education, into a beast which will surely kill us all.


REFERENCE: Wong, R., Saber, S., Ma, I., & Roberts, J. (2009). Using television shows to teach communication skills in internal medicine residency BMC Medical Education, 9 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1472-6920-9-9




One response

21 04 2009

I think cinemeducation can be treated with healthy doses of mediblogs. To prevent complexity overdosing, Rx 1xday

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