'House,' 'Anatomy' exaggerate hospital environment

A medical professional recently wrote to complain about the inaccurate use of imaging devices on USA’s new series “Royal Pains,” saying that glaring errors in such scenes “plant the wrong impression into patients.”

During “ER’s” high-rated heyday, people clearly learned about specific conditions and procedures from watching the show. “We were able to illustrate these complex health issues in a profound way,” explained Neal Baer — a medical doctor who served as an “ER” producer and currently runs “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” — shortly before the show signed off last spring. “People were getting health information from a TV show.”

Nevertheless, the producers were always upfront about the fact that the program represented an idealized view — that these committed hospital workers were precisely the sort an audience would want looking after themselves or loved ones if they were being hauled out of that ambulance.

Almost all television indulges in dramatic license, for obvious reasons. Events have to be expedited to conduct a police investigation and trial in a brisk 43 minutes, sans commercials.

Yet as the U.S. contemplates reform of its health-care system, the mind boggles at what perceptions the public might harbor if people really did glean much of their knowledge about medicine from what they see on TV.

Assuming that viewers are sponges who absorb medical info from scripted programs, many would no doubt believe that doctors can spend all the time and money they want on extraordinary tests and procedures without anybody ever questioning the cost, as they do on “House.”

Doctors only have sex or enter into romantic relationships with co-workers — unless, of course, it’s a patient (“Grey’s Anatomy”). And they weep frequently.

They also experience inordinately high injury and mortality rates of their own — including, but not limited to, brain tumors, bus accidents, bruises and contusions from fistfights plus the occasional broken penis (“Grey’s,” “Grey’s” and more “Grey’s”), to go with their periodically broken hearts.

Most female doctors resemble supermodels, and most male doctors have extraordinary hair and look terrific with their shirts off. In fact, some transplant surgeons wear skin-tight scrubs (see CBS’ upcoming “Three Rivers”) to constantly remind us how nicely developed their torsos are.

Surprisingly, given what you see at almost any big-city hospital, relatively few TV doctors are of Asian or Indian extraction. But in a pinch, most are not only proficient bare-knuckled fighters but can also handle a pistol should the situation require it (“Lost”).

Although they have access to first-class treatment from the aforementioned people with whom they are having or have had intercourse, doctors can still die young — especially when they begin mouthing off around contract-renewal time.

As viewers of the aforementioned “Royal Pains” know, doctors also make house calls for their well-heeled patients and are adept at rigging cures out of common household items, sort of like a medical MacGyver. And despite their human flaws and personal troubles, doctors regularly confront huge ethical and moral dilemmas and care very, very deeply (in pretty much everything).

Fortunately, nurses throw themselves into their jobs with just as much vigor as doctors, if not more so. In fact, some nurses (“Hawthorne”) see it as their duty to sexually gratify hospitalized military personnel, which, if properly publicized, could provide a significant boost to recruitment efforts.

Granted, the ready availability of pharmaceuticals can become a problem. Some doctors (“House”) and nurses (“Nurse Jackie”) pop pills to get through the day, but they generally can do so without compromising patients’ welfare.

Thankfully, patients seldom have to worry about filling out tedious medical forms, being grilled about insurance coverage or suffering from a prior condition. Getting their doctors to see them on a moment’s notice is never an issue. And their insurance companies are presumably more than willing to pay for any and all medical care, since such complications in the wake of hospital stays are virtually never discussed.

Come to think of it, perhaps the Obama administration should enlist TV writers and the medical consultants that they employ to take the lead in revamping the health-care industry. After all, who could possibly object to a system that functions as smoothly, humanely and efficiently as all that?

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