On House

House Calls

Why Are They Better Than Everyone Else’s?
By Nancy Franklin, Ph.D.

Here’s the scary news: When you have your medical emergency, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the hospital, you’re likely to get a doctor who’s not as brilliant as the ones on House. In fact, if you go to a teaching hospital, you’re likely to be seen by a resident who’s recently out of medical school and who hasn’t yet reached the peak of his or her diagnostic skills. Add to that the possibility of you getting sick in July or August, just as residents are first starting out as full-fledged doctors, and you better hope you’ve got something obvious and easy to treat.

Even if you wind up with an experienced physician, don’t let your guard down. Diagnostic errors are still in the range of 10-15 percent, and many of these cases are pretty run-of-the-mill compared to what you see on House M.D. (Elstein). These types of mistakes, which can lead to delay or failure to treat your problem–or to a treatment that causes additional problems–constitute the second highest category of adverse events in medicine (Brennan et al.). No wonder that diagnostic error is the second most common basis for malpractice suits against hospitals and the leading cause for suits in radiology, pathology, and emergency departments (Bartlett). And no wonder those lawsuits don’t tend to go well for the hospitals.

As you may have noticed if you’ve ever tried to take a class in logic or probability, humans, even the smart ones, aren’t natural-born critical thinkers. And  …

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