Dr. Murray Feingold: A 'House' call to treat doctors' image?

Dr. Murray Feingold

Fifty years ago physicians were depicted in the movies as homespun, understanding, caring doctors who made house calls at any hour of the day or night.

As a result, the image of doctors was generally very good. Then, along came television.

The earlier TV portrayals, such as Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby, M.D., presented doctors as very kind, considerate and understanding. They were always available to their patients and made the correct life-saving diagnoses.

There weren't any HMOs, and if the patient couldn't pay, a bag of produce from the family garden would suffice.

Contrast that picture with today's presentation of physicians.

A good example is the TV series "House" on Fox. Dr. Gregory House is the star of the show and is described as "devoid of bedside manner and wouldn't even talk to his patients if he could get away with it." He is brilliant but is addicted to drugs, a womanizer and a medical maverick.

Previous and current medical series also include "ER," "Chicago Hope" and "Grey's Anatomy." They contain a great deal of drama, emotions and romance, but frequently are not very realistic.

None of the physicians in these series were depicted as being a Dr. Marcus Welby, further tarnishing the doctor image.

Now comes a new medical series that is not a writer's version of doctors, but the real thing. It is called "Hopkins" and takes place at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

Cameras follow physicians as they care for their patients. You see critically ill patients being wheeled into the emergency room clinging to life as the medical team attempts to save their lives.

Children with facial deformities are operated on as we watch distraught parents praying that the surgeon is able to improve the appearance of their youngster.

The producer was quoted as saying that his goal was to "demystify medicine and get rid of the 'doctor is God' image."

Since the days of Dr. Kildare, the doctor's image has undergone many changes, not all bad, but certainly not all good.

Perhaps the "doctor is God" image is already gone except when patients are very sick or are in a great deal of pain and want immediate relief.

If the doctor saves their life or relieves their pain, to those patients, at that time, the doctor does assume the aura of being God-like.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the Boston-area physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.