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06/14/2010

Consent for “Docu-Medical” Shows Doesn’t Make It Okay

I will confess that the commercial for the new ABC medical documentary drama, “Boston Med”, had me thinking, “Gosh, I kinda want to see that.” Then I really hated myself, for about 30 seconds.

Then I moved on with the rest of my life. Until I read The Boston Globe article featuring the 8 part television event, I hadn’t really considered it to be much more than another hyping of the medical profession, another example of American’s obsession with good looking doctors and nurses in scrubs in the vein of Gray’s Anatomy and the like.

But in fact, this show is likely to be different–not just because it films real patients at three Boston hospitals. But because it picks the most extreme cases and acts as though this is medicine. It will make Americans believe that House M.D. is in fact how every day medicine is practiced. Out of eight hours of TV drama America will see: a double-lung transplant, a face transplant (AJOB style), pediatric heart surgery.

What happened to primary care? Oh, I forgot–runny noses and flu shots don’t make very good television.

But that is precisely the problem. By glamorizing the highest tech, highest cost, highest drama health care in this country, Americans think that this is the most important kind of health care, the care to which they are entitled, the care that we all would be lost without.

I am glad that George Annas and Art Caplan have alerted us to the ethical problems for the patients and physicians who actually participate in the shows themselves, but I am much less concerned with whether a patient actually gave their full and free informed consent to be on an hour of prime-time television than the message that this hour of prime-time television conveys to millions of Americans.

If just one PSA could run during each commercial break during “Boston Med” that told viewers the cost of a face transplant and how many primary care visits just one of those procedures could provide uninsured Americans or if information about healthcare reform could be put at the end of every single episode, perhaps some of the damage of this sensational show could be undone.

House M.D. has already given us a sense that every test and every procedure can and ought to be done in American hospitals and it is my fear that Boston Med will just be just another instrument playing in that same band.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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