Why House, M.D. is a bad doctor.

I can’t watch House anymore. Not since I started thinking about it while watching it.

Now, I’ve known that TV isn’t real life for almost six months now. I love Sherlock Holmes, and Dr. Greg House is essentially just Holmes with a few details rearranged (initials often left as is). Despite all this, the show is so frustrating to watch and hits so close to home I literally can’t get through an episode these days.

Why? Because House would totally suck as a doctor in the real world. I know this because he sucks in many of the same ways that my actual doctors have. I don’t invite them into my house for 44-minute visits either.

Why is House, the Bestest Doctor in the Whole Wide World Evar, a horrible excuse for a healer? Let me explain. There are three major reasons:

1. House doesn’t listen to his patients. House theorizes that all people, and therefore all sick people, lie, so he only bothers to have conversations with them when it creates dramatic tension or advances the plot somehow. It’s a cute little curmudgeonly quirk on the show, but in real life your health care professionals need to listen to you. They see you for fifteen minutes, if you’re lucky. You live in your body all day. Communication is helpful here.

Your symptoms won’t always be cinematic and obvious. You don’t have an in-body camera shot available to show the microscopic Tarantula virus gnawing away at your optic nerve, or whatever.1 In the real world you should be asked details about your symptoms, your pain levels, your history, and your lifestyle. And this information isn’t just a formality. It’s useful.

2. He’s ego-driven. This is probably the flaw they mention most often in the actual show, but it bears repeating. Doctoring for House isn’t about helping the patients. It’s about winning the Clever Bowl because his brain, which is a wizard, has this mindblowing, God-like power over life and death. Sure, we should all take pride in what we do, but let’s put this in perspective: When I’m ill and in the hospital, this is my entire freaking life we’re talking about. It’s not about what a super spectacular dude my doctor is. Get a hobby, buddy.

Oh wait, he has a hobby. He’s a drug addict! Did I say three major reasons? I meant four.

In the year+ doctors were trying to diagnose me, I bumped against monster doctor ego all the time. It mostly manifested thus: If they couldn’t figure out what the problem was, it didn’t exist. I must be crazy. This drove me crazy, and it’s not good medicine.

But the absolute top reason Greg House would be a horrible doctor in real life is…

3. His diagnostic method is throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks. If you’ve seen this show, you know I’m right. House and his team guess what the diagnosis could be, treat it, and see if it’s effective. Usually it almost kills the victim patient the first time, and then it’s back to the white board and the next wild stab in the dark.

Misdiagnosis is serious. Once, on an episode of House, the patient was given corticosteroids to suppress her immune system because they thought she had an autoimmune issue. It made her actual condition worse… for about ten TV minutes, and they ended up diagnosing her in the final minutes of the show and dispensing a swift, complete cure.2

But that exact thing happened to me in real life. My treating neurologist ran out of ideas diagnosing me, but theorized that since there was so much inflammation present steroids might help. And they did help, for two weeks. Then I got much, much worse, and the bacteria I fight to this day got a firmer chokehold than they ever would’ve otherwise.

Corticosteroids inhibit the immune system. This will help ease inflammation, an immune response. But what if the immune system is responding to something, as it does with, say, infectious disease, instead of freaking out for no good reason, as with an autoimmune disorder? Turning off the immune system in that case has real consequences.

This cycling blindly through treatments is House’s, and sadly, many real-life doctors’ method of diagnosis. Responsible doctors try to minimize this. They try to confirm diagnoses before treating, because you can’t wipe the human body clean like you can a white board. Every pharmaceutical you put inside you has effects, and sometimes some of them persist even after your doctor realizes the Patagonian Puffin Flu was actually a better theory all along.

Conclusion: House is a fun show.3 In the show’s universe he’s the Neo4 of medicine, but in real life it simply wouldn’t work. In fact, it doesn’t. Trust me.

When all my doctors were shrugging their shoulders and suggesting I might be out of my mind, lots of well-meaning, clueless people told me “You need House, M.D.! That’s who you need… you know, if he were real and stuff…”

God. Forbid.5


  1. No, colonoscopies don’t do that.
  2. Then! They all went dancing! (Not really)
  3. At least it was back when I watched it. It may easily have succumbed to seasonal rot by now.
  4. Except not played by Keanu Reeves, so it’s like a double win.
  5. P.S. Sometimes it IS Lupus
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17 Responses to Why House, M.D. is a bad doctor.

  1. Jennifer says:

    You are dead on here. I too have dealt with doctors blindly throwing potential treatments at me to see what would stick. It sucks and does harm. (Don’t they take an oath against that?)
    OhEmGee maybe when your patient is seriously thinking that taking a power drill to the side of her head would actually reduce her pain level, you should give her something stronger than ibuprofen. Or something.

  2. I get so worn out on Doctor Ego. I remember being about eleven or twelve when the pediatrician explained to me that my “balls were making this stuff called testosterone.” Seriously. As if I didn’t know the word “testicles,” and had no clue about glands and hormones. When our son was delivered, the pediatrician at the women’s hospital seriously treated us like white trash. She went so far as to ask if we were on welfare, as if a couple of twenty year olds couldn’t possibly have actual medical insurance. That’s one of many examples of the way she belittled the two of us with every interaction. She seemed shocked when we told her that we would not continue to seek care from her office. Our last family GP retired and left his practice to Doogie Howser. I discovered this when I went into his office because I was showing all the same symptoms of the respiratory infection that everyone else in my office had. But, Dr. Doogie told me that it was just allergies and could not be convinced that he was wrong. He sent me home with a nasal spray and some cough pills. I got better in a few days when the bug ran its course. The nasal spray was nasty and I didn’t bother filling my prescriptions.

    So, yeah. I hear you on doctors. My experience tells me that the many many years that they go to school and work as interns and all that crap doesn’t make them cease to be dumbasses. Clearly that is not to say that they all are, but there’s a pretty good spread of them in the lot. Lots of people think that I’m a paranoid redneck that’s going to wind up one of those hermits in the woods. Given my history with doctors, I can understand why they might think that.

  3. Newman says:

    I haven’t had a “TV” for a couple of years now. I think getting rid of TV’s is the wave of the future. I realized several years back that there simply isn’t anything on TV that I couldn’t live without. That said I have seen a episode or two of House. Crap is too nice of a word. However because I don’t know you Carrie, I won’t express any harsher disdain. To my point. I have Netflix and stumbled across a British sketch show call A Bit of Fry and Laurie. This show is mildly funny and sometimes very amusing while appearing to be completely British simultaneously. Hugh Laurie is one half of this “double act”. To my real point now. He is pretty funny and unequivocally not at all like House. Now when I watch a clip of House or happen to be in a home where a TV is still watched and tuned to FOX at the precise time this show is being aired it allows me to appropriate the show just a smidgen as I now have a reference from Laurie’s past. I enjoy picturing Hugh playing the guitar and singing silly lyrics in a very British way or plating the piano while Fry makes a ridicules mixed drink.. As a side. I began to appropriate British TV as a kid watching 80’s episodes of Dr. Who and then found just a few years ago possible the best TV show of all time, Top Gear. I still however think the majority of British are very silly.

  4. Steve says:

    House is really just the same episode over and over. How many times are they going to re-use the “it might be cancer or it might be an infection but if we give him the radiation it will destroy his immune system and the infection will kill him” gambit?
    And the crash cart should have it’s own trailer and a spot in the credits, they use it so often.

  5. mike w. says:

    In real life House would’ve been beaten to a pulp by patients, thrown in jail, and barred from ever practicing medicine by now.

  6. PT says:

    House would have had is license to practice medicine yanked as soon as it was suspected he was using drugs on the side.

    Oh and where are the rest of the doctors on the show? House seems to do everything, surgery to radiology to oncology. Guess they train them real well nowadays.

  7. ATLien says:

    We do know that IT’S NOT LUPUS.

  8. Charlos says:

    I had a doctor like this. Stories about him entertained my subsequent doctors for years afterward: “He gave you DILANTIN? For MIGRAINES?”

  9. wrm says:

    House is an excellent doctor as long as you’re dying of something nobody else has had in like a zillion years. Funny it all happens in his hospital.

    Note to self: if you ever meet House, MD, move far away from him where people get more common ailments.

    And yea, they should have had a case of lupus just for fun around season three or so.

    (See Brigid’s post on CSI :-)

  10. Firehand says:

    House is one of those people who remind me of a line from one of the Saint novels:
    “He is the kind of character I long to stick pins and needles into.”

  11. Pingback: If Dr. House Was a Paramedic… | A Day In The Life Of An Ambulance Driver

  12. British Doctor says:

    Being a doctor myself, I am appalled (to say the least) at the way Dr. House portrays the practice of medicine – no logic whatsoever e.g. giving chemo to patients without confirming the diagnosis beforehand (i.e. use it as a therapeutic trial), imagine if that were to happen in real life!
    I would really like to know who are the consulting doctors for the show, I guess they are really unsafe!

  13. Scotsman says:

    Its not real people! Its TV! I didnt watch house for all the “medical” crap, i watched it to see if he’d ever actually be nice to his staff, cuddy, his antics with Wilson.. Etc etc. Because deep down we all want to be able to act like House and be able to tell the honest truth to patients but we cant because there is too much of a sue culture in todays world.

    Oh and to point a fact, not all patients lie but they do withhold information that they feel isn’t important and no amount of questioning can withdraw it from them. They also make stuff up, not all patients, because they think it makes them feel better for wasting our time, or they’ll be seen quicker!

    I hope they make a season 9 if only to show house upset at Wilsons death!

  14. Matthew Folse says:

    You’re whining because of a TV show? You skind like a whack-o in my opinion. If you really think Doctors are that incompetent to brush off actual side effects.. I mean you must be smarter than them with your phD and all! Go back to school moron. Seriously. You’re a bigger idiot than the drug addicts that come in to my office and think I’ll prescribe Hydrocodone for their migraines.

  15. MD says:

    I’ve used that whiteboard method and it works great,and did you know all those cases were real cases?because in my personal opinion his method are outstanding and I use them today.

  16. MD says:

    His methods are great

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