The End of an Era

Joe Colucci, Shannon Brownlee | The New Health Dialogue | May 29, 2012

It’s the end of an era in modern medicine. House is no more. The Fox show House ended last week. It was entertaining, but as far as health policy is concerned, we’re not sorry to see it go. The main character (Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie) exemplifies the kind of “cowboy doctor” too many patients have come to expect. The cowboy doctor rides in on a lab result and offers a brilliant diagnosis, saves the patient’s life, and rides off into the sunset, never to be heard from again. It’s the dominant image of heroic doctors in television. Even Hawkeye Pierce, the caring Army surgeon in M*A*S*H whose demeanor is the polar opposite of House, saw his patients in one-off interactions before sending them home or back to the front.

For most of us, though, that’s an entirely unrealistic portrait of medicine. Our interaction with doctors is usually about trying to stay healthy and avoid problems, or managing long-term, chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer. We need doctors who will listen to us, who can explain things clearly, and who we’re comfortable telling our concerns. Chronic disease management makes for lousy TV, but in recent years it has become the dominant kind of problem doctors and patients face day to day...